Tag Archives: loss

The Other Side of the Couch – Don’t Wait

Photo by Todd Trapani on Pexels.com

Twenty years.  Hard to believe it has been twenty years.  The pain has receded; it isn’t daily now as it was in the first several years.  When it returns it is tempered now by sweet memories of better days.  The things we did together, the moments of laughter we shared, the trips we took – these are precious now. 

Twenty years.  Hard to believe it has been twenty years.  The pain has receded, but when it returns it is jagged and still painful and hard to understand.  The pain has not been worked through – it seems instead burned into our memories without healing.

Today, September 11, has two meanings for me. 

First, this day would have been my dad’s 101st birthday.  He was born in 1920, and he died unexpectedly on the 5th of July, 2001.  The first anniversary of his birth occurred on the day that the 9/11 attacks shook our country to the core.  Now, twenty years later, we are remembering as a nation that terrible day.  I, as a single human being, am remembering both the terrorist attack and the loss of a beloved father.

The most important lesson for me out of all this loss is a simple one.  Don’t wait.  Don’t wait to visit loved ones. Don’t wait to say you love them.  Don’t wait to take that trip, to write that story down, to share happy memories.  Our time on this earth is not a given, and we never really know what is ahead.

I didn’t know on July 1, 2001 that the phone call I had with my father would be the last time I heard his voice.  Thousands didn’t know on September 11, 2001 that they were saying good-bye for the last time.

Don’t wait.  It may be the last thing you ever get to say or do.

About Susan Hammonds-White, EdD, LPC/MHSP
Communications and relationship specialist, counselor, Imago Relationship Therapist, businesswoman, mother, proud native Nashvillian – in private practice for 30+ years. I have the privilege of helping to mend broken hearts. Contact me at http://www.susanhammondswhite.com.
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Trauma Comes in Many Forms

agave beach cactus california

Photo by Natália Ivanková on Pexels.com

I recently read in an article that trauma, though usually associated with a sudden, unexpected horrible event or occurrence, can also be caused by something positive.  The article explained that trauma is anything that divides your life into before, and after.  I realized, as I approach the 12th anniversary of my move to Tennessee, that I’ve been dealing with the trauma of being uprooted from the only home I ever knew and relocating to a place where I had no family or friends.

My discovery was triggered by a call from someone I don’t know, but who is a colleague of my brother.  This person and his wife are considering moving to Nashville and my brother suggested they reach out to me to learn the ropes.  As I first spoke to the husband, I answered his questions and gave him the broad strokes about life here.  He’s concerned for his wife and how she will fare.  I next spoke with the wife, who had very different questions and concerns.  We had a great conversation, but as I shared my experiences with her it became clear to me that I’ve suffered some trauma as a result of the move.  In fact, after our conversation, I felt a wave of grief wash over me and it stayed for several days.

I’m sure on the spectrum of trauma, my experience is somewhat mild.  But I do distinguish my life before the move and my life since.  I often spend time wondering what my life would have been like if we’d never moved.  I fantasize about what I’d be doing at this moment if I was still, “back home.”  And I long for a time we can move back.

I don’t know much about recovery from trauma, but in this case, it’s come as a gradual process.  The last 12 years have been challenging but, I know now, also incredibly rewarding.  I’ve learned that I am a resilient person.  I’ve become more confident in my ability to navigate new situations.  And while I always knew I’m someone who makes friends easily, I’ve learned to consciously use that skill when necessary.

And there’s been another, unexpected lesson I’ve learned.  The concept of, “home,” is one I always associated with a place.  In my case, that home is Southern California.  But home is a funny thing, wherever you are, wherever your loved ones are, that’s home.  For some people, it’s obvious but for me, it was something I really had to live through to understand.  And the places that I long for are always with me, in my heart and my memories.  Just like people who have passed through my life, places I treasure don’t disappear.  But unlike people who have passed, I can, and do, revisit places.  The shores of the Pacific Ocean, the rocky peaks of the Sierras, the desert sands of Palm Springs, all are still there for me.  Not to mention the breakfast table at my best friend’s house, the neighborhood parks where my children played, the street where we bought our first home and the duplex I lived in when I was a child.

Right now, I actually feel lucky to have two big parts to my life.  The part before the move that gave me my values, my inner strength, my education and my family.  And the part since, that put all of that to the test.  I know now that, given the choice, I wouldn’t go back to the life I had; that life exists in my memory.  The one I have now is so much richer, more meaningful and more satisfying.  As time passes I feel blended rather than split in two.  I get to choose what part of my past to keep and what to let go and I also get to decide what to embrace in my new life and what to let pass.  I guess for now, the grief is passed, but I’m sure it will resurface and next time, it will be different.

Springtime in my Garden

Here are a few shots from my garden.  This is definitely something new for me!  A vegetable garden of my own is something I always wanted in So. Cal. but never had time or space.  Check it out!


The latest veggie harvest


First yield of the season.


The garden!


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Big Mike


He stood 6’3” with the build of a football defensive lineman.  When his blond hair thinned, he shaved his head but kept his untrimmed beard. He looked scary as heck.

When he worked as a bouncer and the college boys were rowdy, his boss would say, “Hey, Big Mike, go stand over there and just stare at them”.   Mike would walk over to the table without a smile, cross his arms and stare. Within minutes the college boys were running for the door to get away from him.

But Big Mike wasn’t scary to little kids. Every child, and most adults, stood in line for his bear hugs and to hear his deep laugh. He taught his nieces to roar like a dinosaur. They put bows in his beard and pasted one on top of his bald head.

Nothing was too wacky or weird to try at least once. At the Honda dealership where he worked, he flew toy helicopters around the shop often trailing a small banner with an obscene message.

At his friend’s wedding, he told the bride’s family that he and the groom were drug dealers. When his friend’s son was born with blond hair and blue eyes, Mike responded, “Hey, I was just there to fix the dryer”.  (The baby’s parents have dark hair and eyes. )

His voicemail greeting growled “Hi, this is Big Mike. I like girls, so if you’re a guy make it quick”.  His Facebook page said “Hi, I’m Big Mike. If you want to know more, get to know me in person”.  So many people got to know him.

The children at summer camp will never forget the big guy who was always willing to listen to their troubles and dreams.  The Special Olympics athletes he cheered to victory presented his family with a medal engraved with their names to honor Big Mike.   He was a PUNK (Professional Uncle No Kids).

Big Mike was a talented artist. He sketched with pencil and pen. He built rocking chairs shaped like animals for children.  He customized his shoes with glittery designs, like the pair he wore at the bowling alley with a battery-powered blinking blue light. He also played several musical instruments and happily taught others to play.

It’s impossible to explain who he was or how much he influenced others in a few words. He certainly wasn’t perfect because no human is. But I have never laughed so much at a funeral as when I listened to his friends and family tell stories about him.  He was taken from us too soon. But his legacy will live on through the stories.

In loving memory of my nephew, Michael Alan “Big Mike” Shirk (1984 – 2018), gone but never forgotten.


About Norma Shirk

My company, Corporate Compliance Risk Advisor, helps employers (with up to 50 employees) to create human resources policies and employee benefit programs that are appropriate to the employer’s size and budget. The goal is to help small companies grow by creating the necessary back office administrative structure while avoiding the dead weight of a bureaucracy.  To read my musings on the wacky world of human resources, see the HR Compliance Jungle (www.hrcompliancejungle.com) which alternates on Wednesday mornings with my new history blog, History By Norma, (available at http://www.normashirk.com). To read my musings on a variety of topics, see my posts on Her Savvy (www.hersavvy.com).

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The Other Side of the Couch – Losing a Friend

It all happened gradually – so gradually that until it had been going on for months, even years, it was hard to notice.  Taken individually, the changes could be explained.  Lost keys.  Forgotten purse.  Trouble with managing a smart phone.  Struggling with finding a word on occasion.  Each one of those experiences has happened to all of us at some time or another.

However, suddenly, all those things were significant, because more things began to happen, more often.

Someone who had been the most fastidious of people had hair that needed washing.  Someone who had always been full of ideas seemed to have lost her interest in others.  Someone who knew her city well began to be confused about how to get from one place to another.

When the day came when she tried to write a check and didn’t know how to do it – when she sat at lunch with us and forgot there was food on her plate – we knew.

We knew what we hadn’t wanted to know, that we had written off as depression, as Attention Deficit Disorder, as just growing older – we knew that our friend was facing progressive dementia.  Because of her family history, we also knew that this was most likely early-onset Alzheimer’s.

Our friend is fortunate in that she has a caring family who intervened, who helped her make the changes she needed to make.  She will be loved and safe.  Although she will no longer be in this city, she will be with people who love her.

Others who live alone and/or who have no family are not so fortunate.

We are facing an epidemic of Alzheimer’s and other dementias as our population ages.  What I have learned by going through this process with my friend is that it is all too easy to dismiss the visible signs of early dementia because we don’t want to know it is happening.  This denial does a disservice to the person who is suffering, because early detection and early use of the medications available that slow the process down are essential to preserving the functional parts of the brain.

This terrible illness that ultimately eradicates the person’s memory and ability to function can be treated (not cured, but treated).  If you notice any of these signs, talk to your doctor.  Don’t wait; don’t live in denial.  If you see a friend struggling, speak up.  In the end it serves no one to pretend that all is well.

This link discusses some of the early signs of dementia.  It is worth reading. The Alzheimer’s Association is also a wonderful resource and support for caregivers.


About Susan Hammonds-White, EdD, LPC/MHSP

Communications and relationship specialist, counselor, Imago Relationship Therapist, businesswoman, mother, proud native Nashvillian – in private practice for 30+ years. I have the privilege of helping to mend broken hearts. Contact me at http://www.susanhammondswhite.com.

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The Other Side of the Couch – Loss, Again

girl and sky

She called this afternoon.

I knew immediately that something wasn’t right. For days now I have been having a sense of something being wrong – some disturbance in the Force, in the energy that surrounds us all. I had laid it to the time of year, always a challenging one for me. As soon as the cherries bloom, every year, I am back in those unquiet days before my mother’s death, driving back and forth to the hospital, and seeing the most beautiful and radiant of springs unfolding throughout the poignant April days.

I have been aware of being sad, of missing my mother this year in a more particular way. Perhaps as I approach her age at her death, and realize how much more life I wished for her, and how much more life I hope for myself, I am shaken by the gossamer threads that hold us to this planet, this plane of existence. The unexpected lurks, and there is much that we cannot control.

The call telling me that a dear friend, younger than I, had lost his battle with cancer, a cancer that metastasized in the same way that my mother’s had, and that ended in a similar, brutal way, recapitulates all losses. The weight is the same, the heavy leadenness, the what-does-it-matter feeling, the tears always ready to be shed, the questions to which there are no answers.

I grieve for his wife, for his daughters, for my husband, who treasured him as a close friend. I grieve for the circle of lives that he touched, which are myriad. He was a giver. I grieve for the life he didn’t get to live. And yet, I know that he lived life with gusto, with joy, with presence. He appreciated the life he had. He knew that it wasn’t guaranteed. He knew that before the cancer ever came.

So today I am doing my best, in the midst of sadness, to celebrate the life of a special man, who gave much to the world, to his family, to his wife, to his community. He gave the best hugs. His life philosophy upheld and lifted. May all of us be so mourned. His was a life well lived. He will be missed.

About Susan Hammonds-White, EdD, LPC/MHSP:

Susan is a communications and relationship specialist, counselor, Imago Relationship Therapist, businesswoman, mother, and proud native Nashvillian. She has been in private practice for over 30 years. As she says, “I have the privilege of helping to mend broken hearts.”  Contact Susan at http://www.susanhammondswhite.com

Like what you’ve read? Feel free to share, but please… Give HerSavvy credit. Thanks!

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The Other Side of the Couch – Letting Go


I received the news yesterday that one of my dearest friends, one of those friends that has touched your life in a thousand ways, unexpectedly succumbed to pneumonia.  She had been battling cancer for some time, and she had started on a new kind of chemotherapy.  I knew that she had been struggling with side effects, but the news that she had not survived was both shocking and so very sad.  As I face this grief, I notice that is a familiar experience now – the weight in the chest, the tears that lurk behind the eyes, the feeling that nothing much matters.  I have been here before.

Any loss recapitulates all the other losses – and as we live life longer, those losses indeed pile up.  I believe that one of the lessons that all human beings are called to face is that of how do we let go.  When a loved one has moved beyond us, as will happen if we live long enough, how do we go forward?

Perhaps one way of looking at this is NOT to go forward, but to stay still. The shock of loss is immobilizing at first, and for good reasons.  We are not thinking clearly; our rational mind has been overturned, and we are living in – swimming in – the emotional sea of grief.  I would wish for all space, quiet, support, time.

David Whyte, a poet and author whose work has been very meaningful to me, has written a wonderful book called Consolations.  He chooses 52 words and writes essays on each.  One of his words is Heartbreak.  Below is an excerpt.

David Whyte


“…If heartbreak is inevitable and inescapable, it might be asking us to look for it and make friends with it, to see it as our constant and instructive companion, and even perhaps, in the depth of its impact as well as in its hindsight, to see it as its own reward. Heartbreak asks us not to look for an alternative path, because there is no alternative path. It is a deeper introduction to what we love and have loved, an inescapable and often beautiful question, something or someone who has been with us all along, asking us to be ready for the last letting go.”


The Solace, Nourishment and Underlying Meaning of Everyday Words.

© David Whyte and Many Rivers Press 2015

Now Available http://davidwhyte.stores.yahoo.net/newbook.html

As I think of my friend, and experience the heartbreak that comes with my loss of her, I am asking of myself the opportunity to sit with my heartbreak, to be with it and with her, to remember, to regret, just to be with the precious moments that we did have, to grieve those that we will not have, as I allow that piece of my heart that belonged to her to open, to grieve, and to let go.

About Susan Hammonds-White, EdD, LPC/MHSP:

Susan is a communications and relationship specialist, counselor, Imago Relationship Therapist, businesswoman, mother, and proud native Nashvillian. She has been in private practice for over 30 years. As she says, “I have the privilege of helping to mend broken hearts.”  Contact Susan at http://www.susanhammondswhite.com

Like what you’ve read? Feel free to share, but please… Give HerSavvy credit. Thanks!


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Loss and Renewal

Glad painting 1

My mother passed away just over three months ago.  Though she had been having some health trouble, her passing came as a surprise to family and friends.  She was tough and withstood tremendous discomfort.  Heard often to say, “Breakfast is my favorite meal of the day,” she was cooking her breakfast on Friday morning, went into the hospital in the afternoon and passed away on Tuesday evening after just two and a half hours in hospice care.  I miss speaking with her every day, hearing her daily synopsis of the news, what was going on with family, and her laugh.  I miss sharing the birds that I had seen, and taking her for car trips to see the birds and other wildlife.  Mother was dramatic.  When we would see a hawk perched on the Vine Street Christian Church steeple, along the roads or soaring overhead, she would often exclaim, in her delightful southern drawl, “Ohhh, ah do love the fowl”.  I miss her entertaining ways.  Our family misses her way with words and phrases.  Mother had more colloquialisms than you could shake a stick at.

I have heard that the depth of loss doesn’t sink in until some time has passed.  I believe that to be true now.  It has had its stages with me and will continue evolving.  Having lost both parents and three of my four brothers, I can say that even though it is difficult to let go, there is a beauty surrounding the event like nothing else I have experienced.  When we have had loss, everyone is unified, grieving and pulling together, loving and supporting one another, as at no other time.  Let me say that I do not want to lose anyone else to experience this again, but I am more accepting.

Because there is time freed up with no longer looking after mom, and because I jumped right back into work after she passed, I recently took a week-long sabbatical to the mountains and did something that I have never done but always wanted to do…I took a painting class.  It was lovely because the teacher, the talented and inspiring artist, Kim Barrick, was encouraging and generous.  I rented a small cottage all to myself and had the luxury of time to fully dedicate into creating and learning something new.  I made new friends and to my surprise saw an old friend.  In the mornings we hiked, in the afternoons we painted.  It was heavenly to have space and time all to myself in the evening.  My cottage had a screened-in patio with a lawn and old growth forest beyond.

Of course, birds were everywhere in the mountain village.  My mother would light up when you mentioned a Wood Thrush.  I had not seen a one in probably 15 years. For the entire time that I was there, a Wood Thrush sang to me.  The first morning that I heard the varied and beautiful song, I wasn’t quite sure if it was the Thrush.  In the early morning of the second day I stood inside the patio and wished and watched for it to fly into view, hoping to get a glimpse.  Sure enough, it briefly flew into the yard.  It was a Wood Thrush!  Not only did I have the melodic song almost nonstop from dawn to dusk, I had Pileated Woodpeckers, Towhees, Wrens, and tons of Robins (in the thrush family, much more common.)  There was also a Cooper’s Hawk that I was alerted to when I heard the whole community of birds squawking.  They were doing their best to run him off as he tried to steal the babies from the wren’s nest, unsuccessfully, I will add.  This collective of art and nature was a spiritual experience and life changing.  I felt, and still feel wonderfully, wholly loved, taken care of, and that I am doing the right thing.  I found that I actually have some ability to paint and want to learn more techniques.  I want to grow this.  I have begun working through a twelve-week course, ‘a spiritual path to higher creativity’, with a book titled The Artist’s Way, by Julie Cameron.  I will let you know how it goes.  In the meantime, I will relish the renewal.  Though I won’t be able to physically show my mother the paintings, I think she knows just what I am doing.

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