December 29, 2009

Losing Home

There is a profound sadness I feel when I realize how much has changed in the last six weeks. The loss of my job is minimal compared to the death of my mother. When I talk to others about the loss I think maybe I am not communicating effectively. It is difficult for me to fully express the depth of my loss while still sharing my understanding of the path. I have no doubt of my mom’s love for me. I have no doubt that I am strong and can move forward. I have no doubt of where she is. I have no doubt that she will always be with me. I have all the faith in God that I ever have. I simply miss her intensely and know that I will always have a void where she once was. I only had one mom.

Mom was always home to me. No matter where I was. Her home was the place I referred to as home. It has never been where I live. It was always at her house. When she moved from Heidenheimer to Holland nearly fifteen years ago, home moved, too. When mom died I felt that I lost my home. As if there was no longer a place for me. I have certainly established my own life and my own family, but mom was the adhesive for the aunts, uncles, siblings and grandchildren. I think she was home for all of us.

Packing her things and pouring through her life is upsetting. At the same time I feel sadness when I look at her belongings I also feel healing because I can feel her presence. I can see what her life was about. And it reaffirms her tremendous love of her family and her God.

It took several weeks but I finally found myself comfortable in her bedroom. She spent so much time in there over the last year. It felt too heartbreaking to spend time in there. But last week my son asked me if we could snuggle under the fuzzy blanket in her bed so I did. It is a long standing tradition in the Heller home that kids pile in bed with mom and dad. I remember having done it since I was a wee kid. It is the place many “remember when” stories are told. And I have carried the tradition on with my son. When visiting grandmother he would wake up in the morning and head for her room. In a few minutes everyone in the house would be in there. It was comforting to be there.

I am not ready to let go of home yet. One day I will be. I am just grateful that I don’t have to yet. Her physical house is still here and it still holds the memory of when it was home. In time I will move toward letting go. But not today. I intend to be here until it feels right not to be.

At home today.

December 22, 2009

A Decade

Realizing that a "decade in review" is all the buzz on Entertainment news, I decided to get to work on my own. It may take a while. My hope is that I can post it before another decade passes.

Why not?

December 20, 2009

Loooong Year In Review

One of the lessons I have learned through many years in recovery is not to compare myself to others, only compare myself to myself. Each year I write a little “year in review”. After writing about 2009 I took a look back at the one I wrote for 2008. I think this year was much more of a struggle. A lot of great things have happened, but the last two months presented pain. I look forward to 2010 because I am still convinced that from great pain comes enormous strength. While there are some days in the past few weeks I have felt there is little hope, I am grateful that I have so many memories to hang onto and the experience of having made it through tough times before.

So…here is my year in review:

January 2009 was eventful. Mom was doing very well but chemo was back on the calendar. The tumor had returned. She faced it as she confronted everything in life, head on and with force. I was enjoying my career. I had been asked for the second year in a row to conduct training in South Texas with a great group of counselors. I was also involved with the Nova conference for the fourth year in a row. It was a great time catching up with old collogues and meeting new ones, as well. My sweet sonshine turned 8. He had a bowling party with many of his classmates. In attendance were also his dad, Aunt and grandmother. Toward the end of the month I started a rather rigid eating and exercise program as a result of what my doctor thought was a problem with my heart.


In February my son began preparation for his first communion. He had his first reconciliation ceremony. I began my pre-practicum class. This class helped me realize that not only was I really in graduate school but it would soon be over. I spent Valentine’s Day with my two true loves, my son and my mom. I also enjoyed going to Austin for the Texas state TAAP board meeting on Legislative Advocacy Day.

March was exciting. My little sonshine got to spend part of his Spring break with grandmother and down south with his dad and aunt. This was also the month that my sister and I took our mom to San Juan Del Valle to a healing church she had always wanted to visit. It was a very long trip but we had so much fun. I don’t think I have laughed that hard before. I enjoy those memories so much.

In April my son was asking questions about his first communion that had me picking up the phone to ask my favorite catholic connection, my mom, many things. We all enjoyed Easter held at my mom’s house. Since last year she was not able to do it for the first time in more years than I could remember, this was very exciting. Toward the end of this month I also got out from under the expense and burden of being a homeowner. I moved into a very cute apartment. While I thought I should have been sad about the move, it was actually very cathartic to pare down my life and decide what I really needed to hang onto.

In May mom visited for mother’s day. This was the weekend my son had his first communion. It was very exciting for us. His dad, godmother (Aunt), godfather, Aunt and Uncle also attended. He felt like a star and was treated like it!

When he got out of school in June he spent the first week of vacation with grandmother. When I picked him up we took her to her house at the coast where we spent several days. This was the first time we had been there since he was six months old. It was a great time. Before we headed home we went to mom’s family reunion with her. I took my nephew to see my favorite band, Cold Play. Two weeks later we went to my sons first official Bohemian dance. We enjoyed it so much. To this day we refer to it as the “chicken dance”. Mom enjoyed watching all of the kids do the chicken dance so much that she ordered a mechanical chicken that plays the song and does the dance! My sonshine enjoyed several week-long day camps during the summer but his favorite was in June when he attended the Dallas Mavericks basketball camp. Although, not a fan of the Mavericks, I embraced it just the same!

In July I was able to take mom to chemo for the first time. A job usually left to my sister, I was able to lend a hand. It felt really good to be able to do this with her. She had so much strength and faith. I didn’t miss a weekend of visiting her in July. We had a lot of fun and family together time. The entire family got together for the Fourth of July. We had a great barbeque that culminated in all of us sitting around that familiar table in mom’s kitchen recalling stories from childhood. I can still see her sitting there laughing with us.

August was a very joyful month. On the first I celebrated sixteen years recovery. I was asked to be the secretary of the State TAAP board, I handed over the duty of President of Dallas TAAP to the new president, took a week-long vacation, spoke at the NAADAC conference in Salt Lake City, Utah (an incredible honor), and finished my Master’s degree in Addiction Counseling. What a month. My sonshine started third grade, his dad graduated college, we made our usual “Heller trek” to the Colorado river and we had a great end of the month cookout at my brother’s house to celebrate.


September brought the beginning of my doctoral program and the smell of football! We rode with my brother and sister-in-law to watch my nephew’s first college football game of the season…and it was the rainiest game of the season, too. We attended a recovery month event at Bauchman Lake where my son sold an entire box of chocolates for his school. He sold two more the next weekend when we visited my mom’s and attended two more football games. Before the college ballgame the family went to their traditional Mexican food restaurant and had a cake for me for my birthday. My son had text his dad that he thought his mom needed a GPS at some point when I was lost because I really needed one and that is the gift I was given. It was a very helpful gift literally, but I never knew how in the coming weeks it would also apply so figuratively.


October brought about even more change. I turned 40. I was actually excited about that event. I feel that I have learned more in the last 20 years than I ever would have believed. I was very prepared to be 40 and energized about it. I spent weekends with mom. I went to some football games. Me, my sonshine and my sister went with my mom to see an oncologist on the 23rd to learn about the radiation she would begin on the 28th. All seemed hopeful. Both doctors talked about how well she was doing. She didn’t start radiation. On the 25th of October she had a serious car accident on her way to church. She spent 16 days in ICU before passing away.

On the 13th of November she had a beautiful Catholic funeral. When I came home from her funeral I found that the company I worked for 15 months shut its doors. I no longer had a job. I spent the week of Thanksgiving at my mom’s house. My brother’s church had a mass in my mom’s memory, ironically, on the 15th anniversary of my father’s death. November was a difficult month.

December is nearing its end. I am aware Christmas will not be easy. I have missed one Christmas with my mom since the day I was born. That was in 2000 when I lived in Germany and was expecting my son any day and could not fly. Dealing with the loss of my mom is difficult. I feel like I have lost home. There is a void with her being gone that will never be filled and I don’t intend to try to fill it. I just hope after I move through this process there will be many lessons.

A long year full of memories.

December 14, 2009

More Mitch Albom

Now I am reading The Five People You Meet in Heaven. I am on the fourth person he meets....can't wait to finish and move on to the next one.....I am getting to school an hour early to pick up my son so I can sit in car line and READ!!!

Book worm.

December 13, 2009

Moving On....

For a while I have been having a tough time with a person in my life. The issue is that they are obviously angry with me but I do not know the reason. Their behavior has been difficult to deal with. They ignore me. They appear to go out of their way to speak sweetly to those around me in my presence but blindly walk by me without a word. When I directly speak to them the words returned are hallow and sometimes even hurtful. I have spent time trying to figure out what I could have done to cause them to be so angry. I have thought back to the day they became so obviously angry and dissected the events in order to find what I did. I have even directly asked them what I did. There was no response to that question.

There are many decisions I have made as a result of that situation. There are also many lessons I have learned. First, I do not deserve to be mistreated or disrespected by anyone. No matter whom they are or what I might have done. Second, I cannot fix something if I do not know what is broken. Third, I cannot make that person tell me what it is. Fourth, sometimes the only lesson you can learn from a person is what not to do.

I have been surprised by this behavior but even more staggering is that I am shocked. This behavior is actually typical of this person. Many times I have been the ear for them when they slander another. Many times I have been witness to hateful behaviors they have directed at someone else. What is the reason it came as a blow to me that they have had the ability to do this to me? Additionally, this isn’t the first time they have acted this way toward me. The lesson here is that the only thing I can trust is that people behave the way they behave. They do not conduct themselves according to my expectation.

I am in dismay of adults who have the inability to identify their feelings and then rationally discuss them with another. Especially the ones who have an outward appearance of being “together” and on the surface look as if they are the most sweet and humble person on earth. Appearances are deceiving during brief encounters sometimes.

I have made a conscious decision today that I will move on from this relationship. There is no good to come of chasing someone for a reason for their conduct. There is no positive value to my life to continue thinking through all of the possible scenarios. Once again, the Serenity Prayer comes to mind. I cannot change the person. I can only change me. My change will be to emotionally distance myself. I will put the walls up where they belong in order to protect myself.

I will move on....

December 10, 2009

One Month

How long is a month? How much can change in a month? Everything.

One month ago today my mom was in ICU. As my son took the trash out ahead of me that morning I looked at him and thought to myself that it was very important that I live each day as if it were our last together.

My mom’s cancer taught me that. When she was diagnosed with lung cancer in January 2008 I remember sitting on the floor of the hotel where I was chairing a conference and crying. My mom had always been a rock. She had been the glue that held the family together. Many of the family traditions were carried on because of her.

I did everything I could during the twenty-two months that followed to give back to my mom. I spent more time at her house than mine. We talked on the phone a lot before her cancer, but it seemed that the conversations had different meaning. We spent time as if it might not come again. I did things with her that we talked about doing “one day”. We drove to places she used to live. We visited the cemetery where her parents are buried. We took more pictures during those times.

I took time away from a job I once thought was my life. I went on several mini-vacations with her. We visited her house at the coast and the healing church in South Texas she always wanted to go to. My sister and I knew that spending time with her was more important than ever.

The last time I saw her, my son, my sister and I went with her to the oncologist. He told her about the radiation treatments she would begin the next week. The doctor told her she was doing very well for someone with her “condition”. It seemed to be the theme of anyone who knew something about lung cancer….she was doing great.

I left on Friday and hugged her. I would be back in one week. I called her Saturday to check in. On Sunday she had a car accident while driving to church. She was put on a care flight to the hospital. By the time I made it to see her on Tuesday she had a breathing tube in. I never got to hear her voice again.

Sixteen days after going into the hospital she died. That was one month ago today. While, I miss her more than I have ever missed someone, I know we had no unfinished business. There is no question that she knew I loved her and that I knew she loved me. There were no unspoken words. There were no deeds left undone.

That helps me. It does not make it all go away. The pain is not less but it is a comfort. I don’t doubt God when I am sad. I believe she would never want to come back here.

There may or may not be many more years for me on this earth. But I am committed to living as if it could be the last day. I am dedicated to sharing my feelings and thoughts as they come. And I pray that I will not detour long from that promise.

One day at a time. One honest moment at a time, with no regrets.

December 08, 2009

Tuesday Quote

All blame is a waste of time. No matter how much fault you find with another, and regardless of how much you blame him, it will not change you. The only thing blame does is to keep the focus off you when you are looking for external reasons to explain your unhappiness or frustration. You may succeed in making another feel guilty about something by blaming him, but you won't succeed in changing whatever it is about you that is making you unhappy. -Wayne Dyer