The Easy Truth?

Autistic people equate the truth with being kind.

I was just diagnosed with ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder) in December of 2022, a few weeks before my 58th birthday. I wrote about what caused me to seek this diagnosis here. I’m rather new at this stuff, and I’ll be blogging quite a bit about various aspects of it as I go along, reading and learning and wondering what this means for me, as I suspect that quite a few other people are experiencing a similar thing.

Check out my autism category for a list of relevant blog posts, and never forget that 1) I’m just one person, writing about my personal experiences with a thing I only just learned I had. 2) No two people on the spectrum are alike. 3) I am not a medical or mental health professional. 4) I’m not attempting to write a one size fits all autism advice column.

Lately I have been doing a lot of research on autism in an attempt to figure out who I am now that I have this newfound diagnosis. I’ve been reading books and blogs, watching movies and Youtube videos, and listening to podcasts on the subject. A lot of them resonate with me.

With each new insight, I’m gaining understanding about things from my past that used to confuse me quite a bit. Not a day has gone by since my diagnosis that hasn’t come with at least one puzzle piece falling into place for me. It frustrates me that I didn’t get these insights when I was younger and could have adjusted more easily. At the same time, I’m also learning about autistic traits that I definitely do not have, and that causes me to count my blessings. (That’s a subject for another post, if I can figure out a way to tactfully broach it.)

So far on this journey, one of the many sources of insight that I am most grateful for is Orion Kelly’s YouTube page. I watch so many of his videos lately that I’m embarrassed to say that I can’t recall which one served up this pearl of wisdom, but it has been percolating in my mind ever since. I’m paraphrasing here, but he said something along the lines of, “Autistic people equate the truth with being kind, whereas neurotypical people equate lying with being kind.”

Oh, my holy hell. Wow. Puzzle pieces are falling into place left, right, and center with that one! That pretty much explains the bulk of my misunderstandings with others for the past 50 years. I should have that tattooed on my forearm so I can remind myself of it on a daily basis.

  • This explains why I am so hurt when I discover I have been lied to, because I don’t find lying to be kind at all.
  • It explains why I hurt people without intending to, because when I tell them the “kind” truth, they are shocked and offended that I didn’t, at the very least, keep my mouth shut instead.
  • It explains why, when I’m asked for an opinion and I actually give it, people get upset, because they didn’t really want my opinion. What they were looking for was validation in the form of lies. (But I’m sorry. Those shorts really do make you look fat.)
  • It explains why I stir up controversy by kindly telling people not to bake Christmas sweets for me as I’m trying to lose weight. I think it’s kinder to tell people that and save them a lot of time and money. But apparently neurotypicals feel its kinder to accept the sweets year after year after year and say thank you to the baker, and then either throw the sweets away or pass on the gift of poor health to someone else.
  • It explains why I don’t keep things that I don’t like or need just because someone has given them to me, only to find out that they’re really upset to discover that their gift is not cluttering up my house. They interpret the thing’s absence as some sort of personal attack.
  • It explains why I get so frustrated with people who hem and haw and don’t just tell people what they desperately need them to hear. (That’s the plot line of every single movie on earth. I want to scream, “Just tell him!”)
  • And most of all, it explains why I get so irritated, especially at work, when people are willing to put up with an inefficient or incompetent status quo rather than implementing solutions. People would much rather avoid ruffling feathers than introduce change, even if the change would be a vast improvement.

Just thinking about these things has me agitated. Even though I now see where I go off the neurotypical rails, I don’t think I’m capable of making any adjustments because of it. I genuinely feel like a horrible person when I lie to people. It wounds my soul to do so. What you see is what you get. At least now I kind of see why people don’t like what they get from me. I doubt I’ll ever be able to relate to the reasons they take a different path than I would or could, though.

Many people have told me that they admire the fact that I’m a “straight shooter”. But I’m starting to realize that many of those same people have taken advantage of this honestly streak in me. This is something that has always happened to me at work. People will come to me with complaints, knowing that I’ll speak up about the issue, so they themselves don’t have to stick their necks out. It’s as if they use me as some sort of a justice-seeking human shield. I shield them, but they don’t have my back when I am the object of someone’s wrath as a consequence.

I will always have a lower opinion of someone who displays a lack of integrity. It feels as though that’s hardwired in me. Just as I would never intentionally thrust my hand into an open flame, it would feel unnatural to me to obfuscate. Because of this, I expect the same from others. But I rarely get it.

That, and the truth is much easier for me to keep track of. I lack the capacity to remember lies so that I can appear consistent. The truth does not require a filing system in your head. You can just figure out what the truth is again if the situation comes up more than once. In that way, the truth really does set you free.

Ironically, it’s my very lack of obfuscation that causes people to be confused. And then their confusion confuses me. It never occurs to me that people may assume I’m being insincere. That’s probably because neurotypicals are insincere all the time because they think that’s kind, so it’s only natural that they might think everyone is equally “kind”.

I think I’m going to start experimenting with giving advanced warning for my communication style. For example, when someone asks my opinion, perhaps I can ask if they really want it, because my autistic tendency is to actually give it. If they don’t really want my opinion and they manage to admit as much, then I’m perfectly content to keep my mouth shut. Sadly, they’ll probably use that moment to kindly lie. (And by the way, my opinions aren’t always harsh or negative. They just lack subtlety and are therefore unwelcome.)

Even after I read my warning label to you, you don’t want to retract your request for my opinion? Well, then, you asked for it. QUI TACET CONSENTIRE VIDETUR is one of my mottos. “He who remains silent appears to consent.”

Sometimes I think the ouroboros should be my spirit animal. Like a snake devouring its tail, I seem to be trapped in a communication cycle that, however well-meaning it may be, tends to circle back around to bite me right in the, er . . . tail.

Like the way my neurodivergent mind works? Then you’ll enjoy my book!


The Myriad Merits of Meticulousness

The desire to get things right comes from seeing potential everywhere they look.

True confession: More often than not, I get on people’s nerves. I’m only just now starting to figure that out in my late 50’s. (More about how I gained this insight in a subsequent post.)

For now, suffice it to say that I have been called anal retentive, nitpicky, the complainer, the troublemaker and the squeaky wheel all my life. I’m told I ask too many questions. I prefer seeing myself as someone who pays incredible attention to detail, and is constantly looking for ways to allow people to work smarter, not harder.

My thought process always begins by asking myself how something can be made better, even if it’s just by planting the right plants to attract the type of bees that you need to pollinate your crop. I’m fine with you setting the goals. I’m all about coming up with ways to best meet those goals. That, to me, doesn’t seem irritating.

I’m not into criticizing people, but my suggestions are often taken as criticisms. This never fails to surprise me, because I wouldn’t make suggestions if I couldn’t see the ability in people to carry these suggestions out. I think everyone, including myself, is capable of more.

I am fascinated by processes and procedures. I don’t focus on outcomes nearly as much as I quickly perceive all the steps that it took to reach those outcomes and spot the shortcuts that could be made. I don’t see anyone as the owner of these steps, whether they’re flawed or not. I’m not looking to assign blame or make accusations. I just want to make things better.

I genuinely believe that if you take care of the trees, the forest will take care of itself. But there is a reason I’ve avoided the hobby of growing and training bonsai. I suspect that if I ever got into the bonsai zone, I’d experience such bliss that I’d forget to eat and quickly waste away. But I’d leave behind one heck of a bonsai.

Striving for perfection can, indeed, feel blissful. It sometimes requires that you think outside of the box. Innovation, if logical and understandable, is usually beneficial. It might take some extra effort to set up new processes at first, but it the long run, they’ll save time, money, confusion, and maybe even lives.

At worst, people carry on with flawed policies without thinking about them. They’re in a rut, they’re just going with the flow, or they’re not ones to speak up about practices that could stand improvement. Or perhaps they once cared enough to suggest improvements, but they’ve given up because they have been shot down too often, and speaking from experience, that can be maddening.

Nothing sets my teeth on edge more than being told, “we’ve just always done it this way.”

But is that way logical? Is it ethical? Is it the fastest, safest, most efficient way? Has it kept up with the times? Is it easy to understand and implement consistently? Can you explain the reasoning behind it?

I struggle to understand why others fail to see that details matter. If we all know that the data being collected is flawed or unnecessary, wouldn’t it be better to find a more accurate way to collect it, or, better yet, stop collecting it entirely? “Because I said so” doesn’t cut it for me. If you can’t tell me why, I tend to think, “Why bother?”

Managers, in particular, cannot stand me. They wish I would just shut up and do my job. They can’t understand why “it ain’t broke” doesn’t mean it can’t be improved. They want people who keep their heads down and maintain the status quo. They hate change, because they think it will look like they’ve been doing something wrong all along. They’re invested in stagnation because it’s predictable. They aren’t really looking for team players as much as they seek compliant cogs.

The funny thing is that on the rare occasion that someone actually follows one of my suggestions or listens to one of my questions and take it into account, they tend to be grateful that they did in the long run. Often, I can point out things that need clarification so that massive mistakes aren’t made. Gathering the specifics, when possible, goes a long way toward efficiency. I have cut many a problem off at the pass by tending to the specifics.

Meticulous people are often the most safety-oriented people in your organization. They also tend to be excellent trainers, because they are thorough. And they are the perfect people to provide stellar customer service, because they go above and beyond and are constantly focused on ways to provide the best quality for their customers.

If you allow your employees to take initiative, make suggestions, and, yes, pick those nits, in the end they make you look good. With a meticulous person proofreading all your copy, for example, you can rest assured that all the t’s are crossed and the i’s dotted. They will ensure that you meet your goals. They get things right, on time, and as promised. They also keep accurate records and write detailed reports.

I view my meticulousness as a valuable skill set. At the same time, though, I avoid supervisory roles because I want to continue to use my force for good. In a supervisory role, I could quickly become a micromanager. I’ve had my share of those, and I chafe under their scrutiny.

While I’m all for picking a good nit, micromanagers lose sight of the reason, the logic, and the end goal of making things better for all concerned. Instead of focusing on improvements and efficiency, they fall in love with that heady feeling of control and superiority. They think they can only maintain that twisted high by making those around them seem incompetent and inferior. No thank you. I’ll pass. There are other details that I’d much rather pay attention to.

All I ask is that the next time you get irritated by the meticulous people in your life, please consider reframing your perception. They don’t want to be the burrs in your saddle. They want to be the wind beneath your wings. Listen to what they have to say. They’ll help you reach the highest of heights.

Read any good books lately? Try mine!

Volcanic Change

A lot of things are percolating deep down, laying a foundation for change.

Note: I wrote this post about a week before I published it, so my information about the eruption of Mauna Loa will be out of date by the time you read this. Please consult the links I’ll provide below for more timely information.

After seeming to sleep for 38 years, Mauna Loa, the world’s largest volcano, located on the big island of Hawaii, has woken up. I say “seeming to sleep” because it is estimated that it took about 10 years for the magma to reach the upper magma chamber this time around, and that, in turn, lies 2 ½ miles below the crater itself. When you consider that the Hawaii hotspot, from whence the magma could be said to originate, is about 60 miles below the surface, you realize that any eruption is a long time coming. The amount of lava that we’ll see from this eruption is minuscule compared to the magma underground.

Mauna Loa has done a lot of swelling and shrinking over the years as the pressure below ground increased or subsided. That, of course, caused earthquakes. So if this volcano sleeps at all, it does so fitfully.

This current eruption began late in the evening of November 27, 2022 and, to date, the bulk of the lava is flowing toward the north. The lava flow has slowed down quite a bit today, which is a good thing, because it’s currently 1.7 miles away from Daniel K. Inouye Highway, the only major highway that crosses the interior of the big island. Its loss would be devastating. Authorities are now saying that the highway is no longer in danger, but volcanoes should never be underestimated, so we shall see.

The lava has traveled 12 miles, and it’s currently moving at a rate of 7 feet per hour. I don’t mean to make light of this event, but if you have to experience a natural disaster, it’s preferable to find one that’s laid back like this one is, so that you can outrun it. Still, volcanoes in general never cease to remind me how powerless we are over the natural world.

“Slow and steady wins the race”, as they say. This volcano has been erupting on and off for about 700,000 years, and only made it above the water’s surface about 400,000 years ago. It most likely will not become extinct for another 500,000 years. (Perhaps a better proverb would be “Patience is a virtue.”)

I’m particularly fascinated by this eruption because I visited Hawaii for the first time this past May. We drove the length of the Daniel K. Inouye Highway, and we went partway up Mauna Kea, Mauna Loa’s sister volcano. We didn’t ascend as high as we planned to because I started getting really loopy from the altitude and we decided that it was best to turn back. (It took me a few months to blog about it, but you can read that post here.)

We also stayed at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, and that gave us the opportunity to see lava flowing from yet another volcano, Kilauea. As I said in that blog post, it felt as though I was gazing into the Beating Heart of Mother Earth, and I am forever changed by the experience. I have led a truly charmed life.

I’ve always thought of the Hawaiian islands as tiny little dots all alone in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, and from that perspective, it’s understandable that when told a volcano is erupting, many tourists panic and change their travel plans. But when you get there and see things to scale, you realize that those fears are really unfounded. If a volcano erupted in the heart of Manhattan, nobody but those who live in Manhattan would say, “Well, I guess we need to cancel our reservations at that delightful bed and breakfast in Connecticut now.”

Yes, volcanos are dangerous. You shouldn’t get too close to a lava flow. And if you have breathing issues, you should keep track of the direction of the volcanic gasses and ash. Common sense dictates that one should avoid flying boulders and the like. And heaven forbid you get anywhere near a pyroclastic flow (but I’m happy to say that Hawaiian volcanoes don’t have that particular feature. It’s all about lava quality).

But as I said, most volcano action happens slowly, and with our modern technology we tend to get advanced warning. So I urge you not to alter your travel plans. I really wish I could go now, to see this spectacular eruption with my own eyes. (There is a live webcam, but it has only worked sporadically. Check it out, if you can, here. I especially enjoy watching it at night, but don’t forget to adjust for time change.)

During our time on the Big Island, we were able to observe Mauna Loa from many angles as it prepared itself for the spectacular transformation that we didn’t know was imminent. (Isn’t hindsight fascinating?) Even at a distance, it is, indeed, formidable, and the size makes it nearly impossible for our tiny minds to comprehend everything that was going on beneath the surface.

That is a perfect metaphor for change, isn’t it? We usually only see the change when it breaks the surface, but we often find out later that a lot of things had been percolating deep down, laying a foundation for change, for quite some time. Change will happen. (In fact, there’s a lot of change headed my way. Not to worry, though. It’s nothing horrible. When it surfaces, I’ll be sure to let you know.)

Change happens to all of us. It happens all around us. It’s part of life. But when next it happens to you, dear reader, here’s hoping that it will be as beautiful and as awe-inspiring as this eruption on Mauna Loa.

Additional sources:

Hey! Look what I wrote!

Negative Hands

“I was here.”

Recently, I caught a minute or two of a TED Talk in which the speaker was discussing “negative hands”. I was really confused by this, having never heard the term before. It kind of sounds like some form of abuse to me.

But the speaker explained that back when early man started doing art on cave walls, one of the first innovations was to place your hand on a wall, then spit paint over and around it, and when you removed your hand, you left a “negative hand” painting on the wall.

I’ve been looking at photographs of negative hands for decades. They always make me wish I could go to the site and touch the hand, while imagining the artist placing his or her hand in the same spot. (It’s a wish I would never fulfill, though, because I wouldn’t want to damage the work.)

What an amazing feeling that would be. Standing right where the ancient artist stood. Touching her, his or their hand. That would feel like some sort of time travel conversation. Artist, in a faint, distant voice: “I was here.” Me: “I know! Thank you! Lovely to meet you!”

The motivation for putting negative hands on a rock wall is fairly simple to understand. I’m sure that for as long as there have been humans on this planet, we have all wanted to make our mark on the world. We all want to say that we were here. It’s as primal an instinct as an animal marking its territory.

We do this in so many ways. We create art. We tag walls. We name things after ourselves if we can, and after others if we haven’t quite “made it”. We write. We invent things. We make scientific discoveries. We pass on our genetic code. We mark graves. We teach others. We build things. We try to nurture and lift up the next generation so that they’ll remember us. We do good works. More and more of us, unfortunately, prefer to live in infamy.

We are all mortals, and so we reach for immortality in creative ways. But like it or not, it will be time to go for each one of us eventually. Some of us will be remembered much longer than others. We will hope those memories are fond. Some will be remembered without really being remembered, as their innovations morph into common household objects that get taken for granted, or when their descendants display similar quirks, or when their art is labeled, “artist unknown.”

Whether we succeed or not in making our mark, I’m glad that we are driven to try. It’s that instinct that brings about change, and, hopefully, improvement. Change can bring about beauty as well as destruction, so we must learn to tread lightly.

I hope, dear readers, that your marks upon this world are positive ones. When all is said and done, that’s all that matters. Either way, I wish for you a life well-lived, because, yes indeed, you are here.

ARGENTINA Patagonia Cueva de las Manos Cave of the Hands. Prehistoric rock paintings of human hands in red black and orange 13 000 to 9 500 years old. Wouldn’t these people be stunned to know that their hands are now seen on the internet by more people then they imagined would ever exist?

Are you wondering what to bring to Thanksgiving dinner? How about my book, Notes on Gratitude? Place your orders now! (Or any other time, since we’re on the subject.) And… thanks!

Doing Something Small

You are planting seeds wherever you go.

Recently, a friend shared this meme with me, and it really resonated.

First of all, I hate time travel movies. They all seem so formulaic, and an easy out for most writers. Don’t like the plot corner you’ve painted yourself into? Then allow your character to time travel! Problem solved! Literary laziness is what that is.

And I do believe that Back to the Future was the first movie that ever infuriated me. You sit through the entire thing, and then… wait. What? I have to watch another movie to see what happens? Are you kidding me right now? If I’m only seeing 1/3 of a story, I should only have to pay for 1/3 of the movie ticket! I want a REFUND!!!

But this meme does bring up a good point. If we are all willing to accept that changing one tiny thing in a timeline can change the entire future of humanity, why do we find it so hard to believe that doing one little thing in the present might make all the difference for the future? If you can buy into one premise, you should be able to buy into the other. And yet so many of us don’t realize how much our actions and words and beliefs matter.

A few times in life I have been told by people that something I said, or some example that I set, really changed their point of view. They viewed that interaction as pivotal to some aspect of their lives, and in most cases I can’t even remember the conversation. I don’t see myself as an influencer. I can’t even picture that. And yet I have been told this more than once, and it never fails to bring tears to my eyes. Happy tears, because I’ve only been told about positive situations.

But that begs the question: Have I ever changed someone’s life for the worse? And would that person tell me if I had? What would that conversation look like? What would I say? What would I do? Would it be possible to fix it? Would it be too late?

Just like everyone else, I’ve had bad days. I’ve said mean things. I’ve been tired and/or depressed and/or felt defeated or defensive or scared to the point of not caring about someone else’s feelings. We aren’t always our best selves. But those moments can be pivotal, too.

To make up for these things, whether they be real or imagined, I do try to leave positive marks upon the earth. I try to do good deeds and make positive changes and reassure people and encourage them. I try to be a force for good.

But when all is said and done, none of us can ever know our true impact unless we’re told. Perhaps that’s why none of us can predict the future. We can’t even see within the range of our own sphere of influence, let alone outside of it.

That’s why it’s so important to be kind. Tread lightly. Whether you know it or not, you are planting seeds wherever you go.

The ultimate form of recycling: Buy my book, read it, and then donate it to your local public library or your neighborhood little free library!

Living in a Liminal World

Because we don’t know what’s in store for us, people are starting to freak out.

Can you feel it? Everything is different now, and none of us can figure out where we are going. For the past 6 or 7 years, we’ve been in this transitional state, somewhere between the land of “How Things Used to Be” and the land of “God Only Knows What’s Coming.”

It’s an unsettling place to be. We seem to be spinning our wheels. We can’t get any traction. We can’t seem to move forward, but it’s impossible to go back. We’re on the verge of something. We’re on the brink. We’re passing through this ominous borderland where the ground is shifting beneath our feet and we’re unable to see what’s on the horizon. Who knows what the future holds? Everything seems so unexpected and random.

We are living in a Liminal World. I feel sorry for the younger generations, because this is all they’ve ever known.


lim·i·nal | \ ˈli-mə-nᵊl \ 

1 : of, relating to, or situated at a sensory threshold : barely perceptible or capable of eliciting a response. // liminal visual stimuli 
2 : of, relating to, or being an intermediate state, phase, or condition : in-between, transitional. //in the liminal state between life and death.

So many things have happened that we never anticipated.

  • A worldwide pandemic that would become senselessly politicized and therefore rage on to kill millions.
  • People so rarely sign their own names that their signatures are being questioned.
  • An insurrection in our Nation’s Capital only slightly less shocking than the war of 1812.
  • The election of a president (thankfully for only one term) who bragged of his penis size while campaigning, talked of grabbing women’s pussies, and claimed that he could shoot someone on 5th Avenue and still be elected, and it turns out he was right.
  • We find ourselves teetering on the edge of WWIII.
  • A pandemically-induced employment deficit is giving workers negotiating power for the first time in living memory.
  • It is becoming increasingly evident that we’re destroying the planet, and yet we aren’t doing anything about it.
  • Billionaires are going to outer space rather than dealing with the problems right here on earth.
  • Conspiracy theorists are taken more seriously than scientists.
  • Bitcoin.
  • Social media has exposed our gullibility, ignorance, hate and violent tendencies.
  • People are forgetting how to read maps and analog clocks.
  • Teens no longer rush to get their driver’s licenses.

Do I sound like a grumpy old woman who no longer feels she fits in the world? Well, yeah, I’m that. But this is much bigger. It’s more all-encompassing. People are starting to freak out.

Personally, I’ve been functioning under a level of stress that’s so intense that I’ve kind of forgotten that it’s stress. It’s time to do something about that. It’s time to find some solid ground again. My stability needs to be restored. Liminality is not a state where I thrive.

The thing about living in a liminal world is that it provides infinite opportunities for change. Change is scary. But we can insist that change be positive, rather than allowing it to be infused with selfishness, greed, and hostility. There’s untapped potential, here, to make the world a better place. We can break all those rules that haven’t served us well, and create a new way of living. The problem is that we can’t seem to figure out what that would look like.

Any ideas? Because I’m not going to lie. I’ve got nothin’.

Read any good books lately? Try mine!

First Post of the Year: We’ve Got This.

Change happens.

Happy 2022, everybody!

Well, here’s hoping, anyway. I can’t shake the feeling that there will be more drastic changes this year, globally, politically, environmentally, and pandemically. I suspect yours truly will be hard-pressed to keep up with those changes in this forum, but I promise to do my best to shower you with my usual quirky and unsolicited opinions.

I don’t do New Year’s Resolutions. I haven’t in decades. My failure rate is too high, and there’s no sense setting myself up for said failure right out of the calendrical gate. And this year will be unpredictable, so it’s a lot harder to make any sort of a plan to reach any sort of a goal.

Frankly, most of the time these days I’m just sitting around feeling nostalgic about those kinder, gentler times when I could give out free hugs to strangers. Those days are gone. So maybe my goal should be to see everyone as germ vectors, yes, but choose to like them anyway. I think that may still be achievable.

On the day I post this, Dear Husband and I should have been driving home from a romantic mini-break in Victoria, Canada. But we decided to cancel, because there’s no predicting if the borders will remain open, there’s no predicting how bad this Omicron variant will get, and one of our dogs is displaying some worrisome but vague health changes. None of us are getting any younger. So we chose to do the responsible thing and mini-break in place. We weren’t expecting that. But, you know, change happens.

I think many of us have a gut instinct to fear change. That stands to reason. Knowing what the heck was going on was critical for the survival of our cavewomen ancestors. Their ability to predict is what has allowed us all to be here. I’m sure that instinct to desire predictability was passed right along to us. Now we’re having to squelch that fear of change in exchange for a heaping helping of flexibility, and some of us are better at that than others.

But I’m feeling optimistic today, and looking back on the past couple of years it’s very evident that we’ve all been through a lot. Change has come at us at a furious rate. And yet, here we are. We’ve made it this far. It may not have been pretty, but we did it. And I suspect that will be the case this year, too, as long as this pandemic is taken seriously.

I suspect that there will be many times this year when I’m tempted to post just one sentence: “I’ve got nothing.” Coming up with topics for this blog is a constant challenge, especially when all travel plans and new experiences seem to teeter on the edge of cancellation. But as I said up above, I’ll do my best.

When all is said and done, that’s really the most any of us can do, isn’t it? I believe that the majority of us are really doing the best that we can under these difficult circumstances, and because of that, I choose to continue to have faith in us. We’ve got this. Just you wait and see.

Like this quirky little blog? Then you’ll enjoy my book!

Feeling Relief Instead of Grief?

You are not alone in this.

I was talking to a friend about her mixed emotions after the death of one of her relatives. This guy had made her life a living hell when he was alive. He was an abusive alcoholic who created nothing but drama in the family. He left financial devastation in his wake, and he was quite adept at dishing out emotional abuse. The man was toxic. I found him to be a horrible human being.

Since his passing, my friend’s life has improved substantially. Her stress levels have decreased and her health has increased. She gets more sleep. Her self-confidence is much more evident now. I’m really happy for her.

Sadly, she feels a little guilty for being relieved that the guy is finally gone. He was, after all, a relative, and she did love him to a certain extent. But she doesn’t miss him at all.

I can totally relate to this. When my stepfather died, I wanted to throw a party. But of course I didn’t. People would have been horrified. They would have thought I was callous. They have no idea what the man had put me through. The world is a much better place without him in it.

Relationships are complicated, and therefore the subsequent grief is bound to be complicated. There are many scenarios in which it would be quite understandable to feel relief and/or a complex mix of emotions at someone’s passing. You would definitely not be alone in this.

For example, if your loved one had been suffering for years, it’s natural to be relieved that that suffering is over. And if you were the primary caregiver for that person for what feels like an eternity, and that care has left you exhausted and depleted and stressed out, it’s okay to be relieved to have your life back again. If you have lost someone due to an easily preventable death, or due to suicide, you may have a lot of anger and/or guilt to process.

I’ve had several people broach this subject with me over the years. They tend to speak in hushed tones and look over their shoulders to make sure no one is listening. It’s as if they’ve committed a crime. I seem to be one of those people who silently signal that if you feel the need to confess this particular offense, then guuuurl… come sit by me.

Our culture causes us to have really strange ideas about what grief is supposed to look like and feel like. It’s supposed to be pure, sincere, and it should last for a year. (Longer than that, and people lose patience. Shorter than that, and something is wrong with you.) And if other family members are experiencing what looks like a more wholesome form of grief for the person you are thrilled to be rid of, then you are expected to suppress your feelings so as not to ruffle feathers. But make no mistake: you are grieving, too, in your own way.

Grief can’t be pigeonholed. Each person’s experience is different. In fact, your grief experience will most likely change over time, and it will be different for each person you grieve. Grief can manifest as depression or sadness or anger or numbness or an inability to concentrate, and yes, it can also include relief and even joy and a sense of freedom and release.

It’s not uncommon to encounter insensitive people as you work to process and adapt to this monumental change in your life. They often don’t realize they’re passing judgment by showing their confusion, impatience, or shock at the way you are feeling or behaving. Please remember that they don’t get to decide if you’re getting it right. There is no “right” way to grieve.

At the same time, it’s important to remember that not passing judgment should be a two way street. It does you no good at all to try to force your brand of grief down the throats of those around you, who may, in fact, not be feeling grief at all, or may be so devastated that they struggle to function. You can erect a shrine, but you shouldn’t expect others to worship at it. You can throw your own party, but no one should be forced to attend. You can wear all black for the rest of your life, or cover yourself in bright, shiny colors, but please don’t dictate anyone else’s physical or emotional wardrobe.

Another thing to consider is that you’re not only grieving a person. You are also grieving change. You may be grieving the life you never had because of the life you were forced to live while you were in a toxic person’s orbit. You may be grieving the fact that you were unable to improve your relationship with that person while he or she was still alive. You may be experiencing confusion and/or resentment and/or excitement because now you have to figure out what your life will look like moving forward.

A good rule of thumb is this: you do you. Feel what you feel and allow others to feel what they feel. Give yourself and others that gift.

And if you wish to support someone who is grieving, ask that person what they want or need. Don’t assume you know. Some people, like my friend, want nothing more than someone to listen to them express their relief without criticism. I’m glad she came and sat by me.


Enjoying my view? Then you’ll enjoy my book!

A Seven Year Reassessment

Sometimes I’m astounded that this is my life.

Seven years ago in August, I decided my entire life needed a do-over, so I packed up my two dogs and the rest of my stuff and moved 3100 miles from Jacksonville, Florida to Seattle, Washington. I had never been here before. I knew no one. I was 49 years old, and had absolutely no idea what the future held for me. I only knew that my present was dismal and I couldn’t imagine that any change could possibly make it any worse.

Fortunately I did have a job waiting for me on the other end, because the prospect of homelessness held no appeal. I also had a rental house, which I’d only seen in pictures. But other than those two solid-ish things, I felt as though I were jumping into an abyss.

During the 5 days that I drove across the country, I spent much of the time asking myself if I had lost my mind. One of my cousins (who knows me not at all) accused me of running away. I preferred to think of it as running toward, because what I was leaving behind was nothing of value, except for a few really close friends with whom I knew I’d keep in touch. My future in Florida was of me running on the same desperate, depressing hamster wheel I had been running on for the past 40 years. It had gotten me nowhere.

So, with equal parts trepidation, excitement, and hope, I approached the Emerald City, wondering what adventures it held in store for me. The not knowing was the scariest part. The not knowing was also the most exciting part.

I don’t think I realized what a culture shock I was about to experience. Seattle still feels like a foreign country to me to this day, although I’d like to think I’ve learned the language somewhat, as well as the lay of the land. Now I feel like an established expat. Back then, I felt like an alien from outer space.

I had to get used to driving on hills. I had to learn to dress appropriately for the seasons. I had to figure out which grocery stores to shop in, and while a lot of the products were identical, they had different brand names.

The first two years were particularly hard. I spent most of the time just going from work to home and back again, with occasional solo outings to explore the city. I was so lonely it was physically painful. My skin felt like it would atrophy due to lack of touch. That, and the supervisor of my bridge was a full-blown psychopath. Administration knew it and no one did anything about it. I was clearly in it alone. Work was hell, and at home I had nothing better to do than stew about work. Many’s the night that I cried and said to myself, “My God, what have I done?”

But throughout that dark period of adjustment, little glimmers of light kept creeping in. I loved the exotic sounds of morning birdsong, which was nothing like the birdsong on the east coast. I loved the changes in season. I loved the lack of bugs and the absence of oppressive, soul-sucking, sticky heat. I loved the flowers and the fruit and the neighborhood in which I lived. I loved the views from the bridges in which I worked. And I adored the paychecks. Union strong!

It’s hard to make new friends when you’re in your 50’s. People my age usually have established friendships and set routines. That, and the general vibe out here is very reserved. People also seem to be a lot less reliable. I got stood up a lot. I still do. That takes some getting used to.

But I discovered I had some really cool neighbors, and I picked up friends here and there. It was such a relief being able to count on the fact that most people here had my politics. In Florida I felt like a liberal turd in a republican punch bowl.

I joined a few groups and took a class or two. I even tried internet dating, but that was an unmitigated disaster. (I can laugh about that now, but it wasn’t so funny at the time.)

Little by little, day by day, I built myself a life. The psychopath retired. I published a book. I bought myself a house. I found myself someone to love. And now things are so good that they hardly seem real. Some mornings I wake up and I’m astounded that this is my life.

The other day I had a party. I invited 4 friends over to paint rocks and do crafts. We sat on my patio, my favorite room in the house, and laughed and hugged and commiserated and talked about reality TV and insulted anti-vaxxers and ate guacamole. We also talked about what an amazing husband and home I have.

At one point, and I hope nobody noticed, I got tears in my eyes. Happy tears. It’s just that my life has come so far in the past seven years. There were times I would have despaired of ever having a get together like this. It all felt so completely out of reach.

And yet, here I am, feeling the serenity and painting solid, colorful rocks to prove it. It was all worth it. Life is good and the future is bright. What a difference seven years makes.

Cultivate an attitude of gratitude! Read my book!

A Thought Experiment, Courtesy of My Subconscious

There’s a lot to be considered.

I woke up on the morning I wrote this with a sentence from my dream still echoing through my head. To wit: At the end of the world, will the last human left to die feel bitterness or relief?

Wow. My subconscious is profound. I’m impressed. My first instinct was to write that down so I could blog about it.

My second, of course, was to ponder the question. And it’s quite the can of worms once you pop it open. There’s a lot to be considered.

First of all, without knowing what caused the end of the world, it’s hard to gauge whether you’d be able to make a go of it, all alone, until a ripe old age. I’ve often said that I’d prefer to have a nuclear bomb land right on the crown of my head rather than trying to survive a nuclear winter. It’s a quality of life thing. Why prolong the inevitable?

Was the end quick in coming, or did humans have time to destroy everything on the way out? That would make a huge difference, too. If change is to come, let it be swift.

But what if the end of the human world were brought on by a pandemic and you found yourself to be immune? It would be lonely, but I think I’d like to stick around and enjoy the birds and the bees and the flowers and the trees for as long as I could. I wouldn’t want to be in a large city, though. The smell alone would be horrific, at least for the first many years.

I would grieve for people, and for my past, no doubt about it. But I think the sheer size of that grief, and the finality of it all, might make the feeling implode under its own weight. There’d be nothing for it but to get on with things.

If I were absolutely certain that I was the last human on earth, I would have considerably less to be afraid of. Most of my fear springs from the actions of other humans. Nature can be harsh, and it would be a struggle to survive, but human violence would be a thing of the past. That might be nice, all things considered.

I hope I’d have a dog for a companion.

There’d be no more need for money. I’d become a scavenger, no doubt, and would have to move to a mild climate. Or maybe I’d migrate like the other animals, and have a summer home and a winter home. I’m sure I’d garden. I’d probably forget how to talk, but there’d be no shortage of books. And as an occasional treat, I’d break into a museum. Just to look around. I’d become adept at breaking and entering. First stop: The nearest Amazon warehouse. I’d raid it not for frivolous stuff, but for shoes and winter coats and the like.

I think it would be a bittersweet existence, punctuated by the constant need for warmth and food and drinkable water. But when the time came for me to shuffle off this abandoned mortal coil, I don’t think I’d be bitter, because there would be no one to blame. I might have a regret or two, but I think I would be relieved that I made it as far as I did, and that this particular journey was finally over.

Like the way my weird mind works? Then you’ll enjoy my book!