Barb Caffrey's Blog

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Archive for the ‘Widowhood’ Category

Sunday Thoughts: Working Through Pain

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Folks, as it’s Sunday, it’s time for me to reflect on something bigger, something more profound…or at least something I usually don’t.

This week, I wanted to talk about pain, whether it’s physical, emotional, mental, or spiritual. We all deal with pain from time to time in our lives, and it can seem overwhelming. And dealing with the pain is damned hard, because it takes so much of our energy just to keep functioning while we hurt.

I wish I could tell you that the pain will go away tomorrow. Unfortunately, I can’t. (Refer back to the apocryphal Buddha story of how everyone suffers in life for further details. I wrote a blog on this a while back.)

What I can tell you is that you’re the same person you were before, with a few more life experiences under your belt. And that none of us — not one, single, solitary, blessed person — gets through life unscathed.

But while you’re in pain, it’s very hard to function. Especially when the pain is new and raw.

All you can do at such times is take it day by day, moment by moment, sometimes even minute by minute. And remember that who you are at your worst is not who you are any more than who you are at your best; it’s all the places in the middle that matter more to you, as a person, than that. (Though of course most of us try to be our best selves as often as we can, that isn’t always possible. And we have to forgive ourselves when we can’t do it — while vowing to do better later, natch.)

My late husband Michael had a trick that I always attributed to his adherence to Zen Buddhism, in that he told me at times like this to feel the pain, no matter how bad it is, for ten minutes. Then, after ten minutes, tell yourself, “OK, self, I’ve heard you. I’ve felt this pain. Now I need to get on and do what I need to do anyway.” Most of the time, doing that will allow you to carry out the rest of your day unscathed; some of the time, though, you may have to repeat this exercise two, three, even four times a day, just so you can do whatever you can the rest of the time, and tell yourself that you have, indeed, heard and felt what your inner self is insisting you must hear and feel right now, thanks.

I know these tricks do help. They aren’t a cure-all, no. They aren’t going to make the pain go away. They aren’t going to make you feel that much better, either…because that’s not the purpose of the exercise.

Instead, the purpose is to help you remember that you can still do things.

You aren’t stuck forever, in short, unless you want to be. (And most of us don’t, though sometimes it does take a while to get through the pain. It took me nearly twelve years, after my husband died, to deal with the worst of it, for example. I still have moments where it seems overwhelming, even now.)

You do have options, even in times of great pain. There may not be many, and they may be just the best of all the available horrible options. But you do have a few, and you have to be able to look coldly and rationally at what they are, so you can make the best decisions possible for yourself.

As I’ve said before, you do matter. Who you are, who you want to be, who you’ve always been…that all matters. And what you do for yourself to create beauty, joy, and purpose is also incredibly meaningful.

These are the things that make life worth it, in spite of the pain. (Or maybe because of it. But that’s a separate, future blog post.)

So, do your best to look past the pain, if you can. (Can you tell I’ve dealt a lot with pain in my life?) But if you can’t, feel it as long as you need, and then go forth and do whatever it was you were going to do anyway.

That’s the best way to go, and eventually you will realize that you still have more to offer…even if it wasn’t quite in the exact, same way you’d hoped.


Written by Barb Caffrey

March 4, 2018 at 3:13 am

Blogging and Life

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Some days, it’s easier to write than others. But lately, writing has been like pulling teeth.

Why am I starting out with this? Simple. I haven’t blogged much in a few weeks, and I’ve had questions as to why. Long-time readers probably know the answer, but I’m willing to give it again…it’s the time of year that’s getting me down.

Around this time thirteen years ago, my husband Michael was alive. Writing. Reading and editing my writing. Making me laugh. Letting me make him laugh. Cooking. Walking the neighborhood. Complaining about politics, and listening to my complaints about politics, too.

In short, living his life. And enjoying it, and our marriage, immensely.

Then came that awful day, the day that changed everything. The day he had four heart attacks without warning, which he couldn’t survive.

The day I became a (way too young) widow.

I can’t pretend that I like this time of year. And I won’t.

What I will say, as I said in last week’s blog about changing perspectives, is that I’m trying to look at it a different way. At long last, I am trying to see my husband’s life right now, rather than see the “period at the end of the sentence,” otherwise known as his death.

Yeah, at other times of the year, I see Michael’s life quite well. And it comforts me. It gives me hope, because I was fully understood and appreciated and admired, all for being myself. And boy, oh boy, was I loved…

(Embarrassed grin.)

Anyway. The fact of the matter is, I just hurt at this time of year. And because I hurt, my creativity is slowed. I find it hard to play my instruments, hard to write fiction, a little more difficult to edit (depending on the project), and just, in general, find life to be more of a drag.

That this year is going to be more like 2004 than not — in that it’ll be too hot, and too humid, for late September — is not helping.

Still, if I think about my husband’s life, and about how much he loved me, it helps. A lot.

I know Michael would like it if I could find more joy, more happiness, or at least more peace. And God/dess, am I trying.

As to why I’m blogging about something so personal?

Well, there may be some widow out there hurting just as much as I am. Maybe she’s wondering what the point is. Or wondering how on Earth she can keep going, keep striving, keep working toward a future she can no longer see, when the love of her life is dead.

I think there is a reason, but I don’t have a way to articulate it very well.

The best I can say is that because I was loved so well, I want to do right. I want to help others, in whatever way I can, and I want to keep going. Because that’s what my husband would want.

And I’m trying, so hard, to find a way to want it, too. Despite the time of year.

Because if I can keep trying, maybe I might eventually find love again. (Hey, it could happen. That I even want it to happen, after thirteen years, is miraculous enough. And no, you may not say “it’s about time.”)

I kind of think Michael would like that.

Written by Barb Caffrey

September 19, 2017 at 7:33 pm

Missed Connections

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Folks, earlier tonight I heard from a friend that another of our circle had died. I felt terrible about this for many reasons, and I still do — but much of why I feel so awful may surprise you.

See, I think in some ways I dropped the ball with this individual. She was a bright, funny, caring woman, and I liked talking to her when I saw her online, but for a long time, I wasn’t completely able to reach out or let anyone else reach in.

After my husband Michael died, it took years to get to the point where I could again have reasonably normal friendships where grief didn’t completely overwhelm me (and my friend). And while I knew this woman a little bit before Michael died, I actually got to know her better afterward…when I wasn’t exactly at my best.

Now, I feel like I missed a connection somewhere with regards to this woman.

See, she tried — and several times, if my memory is not mistaken — to reach out to me after Michael died. This wasn’t an easy thing to do considering the depths of my grief, but I was in no shape to be able to appreciate her efforts.

Then, as I got more accustomed to widowhood, I was still withdrawn in many ways. Because of that, I never told her that I did appreciate her efforts. That they did mean something to me, and that partially because of her, I did keep trying and did eventually find a way out of my grief long enough to realize that I still had something worthwhile left to share with others.

This particular lady was someone that I think I could’ve really had a solid and strong friendship with, rather than be on the fringes of each other’s lives, had I been less withdrawn due to grief.

But it didn’t happen, partly because of circumstances…and partly because when she made her overtures of friendship, I wasn’t ready to receive them.

When I was ready, time got away from me. I never circled around and told her I appreciated that she’d tried to reach me, and that she did her best to support me emotionally at a difficult time.

Worse yet, when she needed help (she’d started a GoFundMe appeal recently), I wasn’t aware of it so I couldn’t help. She’d made it public, but I hadn’t gone to look at her Facebook page in a while, and the algorithms Facebook employs didn’t put her posts front and center on my feed…so I flat missed it.

Granted, I didn’t miss it out of malice aforethought. But I did miss it, and the help I could’ve provided wasn’t forthcoming.

All because of missed connections.

Because I’m now mourning her loss, I would like to tell you all something.

Do your best to tell those who help you that you appreciate what they’re doing. Even if it’s hard; even if you’re afraid it’ll sound wrong; even if you don’t really know how to tell them. Do your best, and let them know that you care.

Don’t assume that you’ll have tomorrow to do it, either. Because time has a funny way of getting away from you. And then, you’ll think, “Oh, that was years ago, she won’t care, and anyway, she’s got different people to talk with now…what difference would it make if I told her I appreciated things back then, anyway?”

Maybe it wouldn’t have. But maybe it would. And if it would’ve, who knows what sort of deep friendship might’ve occurred?

Now, all I can do is ask that you tell those you care about that you care about them today. Don’t wait.

And if you want to thank someone for something they did years ago that meant something to you, do it. Even if they don’t remember, or if it wasn’t a big deal to them, do it anyway — because it matters, and it’s good that you know it.

As for my friend, I hope she is being feted in the afterlife by all her friends and loved ones who passed before her. She was a lively, well-read woman with talent and wit and integrity, so I’m sure there are many on the Other Side waiting to greet her. (Probably including my husband, for all I know. It’s the type of thing Michael would’ve enjoyed doing, so I’d like to picture him there.)

Still, as I mourn her loss, I also mourn the loss of possibility. And wish very much that I could go back, just a few days, even, and tell her that I really did appreciate her.

But now, it’s too late.

And I hate that.

Written by Barb Caffrey

June 15, 2017 at 1:44 am

Anniversary Thoughts — and Book Recs (from me)

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Folks, it’s my fourteenth wedding anniversary today, as I write this. (Actually, it’s nearly over, as it’s after eleven p.m. as I type this out.) And while I’m happy to remember my late husband Michael, and the happiest day of my life — our wedding day — spending my anniversary alone, again, is not the world’s most pleasant thing.

Grief is a very strange thing, you see. It’s a personal journey of sorts; how well can you cope with the pain? How well can you go on with your life, and all its vicissitudes, and yet do your best to honor your loved ones…honor your memories?

Every person’s grief-journey is different. Mine has been long, protracted, and difficult, but along the way I’ve met many wonderful people and reaffirmed long-standing friendships. I talk about Michael with my friends, and about how much I miss him, and about how much he did to help me as a writer and editor…and also about how much he enjoyed listening to me play my instruments (usually I played my clarinet, sometimes the alto sax), or discussing the music I was writing, or really anything at all.

Michael enjoyed so many things, you see. He was a strong, vibrant presence, even though he, of course, did not see himself that way.

I’m glad to have met him, married him, and been together with him until he passed — way too soon — in 2004. I will honor our wedding day every day of my life, but most especially on our anniversary.

That said, I also wanted to talk a little about writing today. Michael was a writer, and he loved to write. He also loved reading my stories, and talking with me about works in progress; I like to think that he’d be ecstatic that ELFY is out in two parts, AN ELFY ON THE LOOSE and A LITTLE ELFY IN BIG TROUBLE, because Michael thought Bruno’s journey from discarded orphan to worthy hero was well worth reading. (Plus, it’s funny, and Michael, like me, was always partial to that.)

My publisher has priced AN ELFY ON THE LOOSE at ninety-nine cents, so it’s quite affordable. And if you enjoy that, you can go grab A LITTLE ELFY IN BIG TROUBLE for only $2.99 — the two together are less than the price of most fast-food hamburger meals, and are far more satisfying (with far fewer empty calories, too).

That being said, I also wanted to point out that several other stories are available right now, including several that Michael had a great deal of input in (actually writing two of them). All are ninety-nine cents to buy, but are free to read with Kindle Unlimited. (I still plan to get up versions for other sites, but that hasn’t happened yet.)

TO SURVIVE THE MAELSTROM is a novella featuring Peter Welmsley, one of the few survivors of the Battle of Hunin. How can he continue to live while his best friend, much less his fiancée as well, are dead? And what does an empathic were-mouse have to do with Peter, anyway?

Note that the Marketing for Romance Writers Group on Goodreads featured TO SURVIVE THE MAELSTROM as its book of the week for June 21, 2016…thank you so much for that!

Also, considering I’m talking about my husband this evening, the main impetus for me to write this story was a 2,000 word story fragment Michael left behind. I wanted to figure out the rest of the story…so I did. (And I do hope you will enjoy it.)

Next is Michael’s fantasy-romance novella COLUMBA AND THE CAT. This story features Princess Columba of Illnowa; she does not want to be a princess, as she’s suited to be a musician-sorceress instead. She’s been looking around for a familiar animal — someone to help her with her mage-studies — and happens across a small cat with unusual markings while out riding. She rescues the cat, and then magical things start to happen…including dreams of a near-perfect suitor (not young, not overly handsome, but smart and funny and interesting). But the cat is a shapeshifter…when, oh when, will Columba figure that out?

And, finally, there are the two stories of spaceman and adventurer Joey Maverick, written by Michael (with the second story being finished and expanded by me), A DARK AND STORMY NIGHT and ON WESTMOUNT STATION.

I hope you will give these books and stories a try, as it’s the only present I want for this, my fourteenth anniversary. (And thank you.)

A Sunday Thought…and a Thought

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Folks, when I woke up earlier today, I thought hard about life. About what my place in the world is (nay, bigger than that — the entire universe!), and whether or not what I’m doing is my best course of action.

Then I snorted, sat up, and started laughing in near-hysteria.

I’m a writer. An editor. A musician. A scholar of arcane disciplines, and a student of history. Also a daughter, a friend, a colleague…

And, of course, the widow of Michael B. Caffrey.

This last is my most precious joy, not because of the widow part — far, far from it! — but because Michael was the most amazing person I have ever had the privilege to behold. He was funny, smart, self-educated, gifted at many things, and a person of remarkable wit and consequence. Michael mattered so very much; what had formed him, what had shaped him, into the man I feel in my heart was firmly destined to be my husband and other half of my soul interested me greatly.

Because we didn’t have that much time together, there are some things I will never know from his perspective. (I have picked up on some additional things since his untimely passing from his sister, his nieces, a few of his friends, and his ex-wife, who was possibly his very best friend in all the world besides myself.) But one thing I do know…Michael was special, and important, and being with him was worth every last bit of pain I’ve suffered since his untimely passing.

Much less the pain I endured before I ever met him, as I’d been previously — and quite unhappily — married before I had the privilege to meet him.

I mention all of that because it’s important to me. Important enough that I’m willing to put it out there, for all to see, in a format that will last as long as the Internet does…and perhaps longer.

But perhaps that seems obvious to you. If you’ve been here before, you know this about me by now; I have suffered, but I have learned, and I have been deeply loved. These things cannot help but mark a person. And in this case, I hope they have made me a better person.

That said, I can’t help but reflect on how life, all in all, marks us. We are all the sum total of our experiences. If we are wise, and learn from our mistakes — and celebrate our joys, no matter how brief and evanescent they may be — we may become our best selves, and worthy of the highest love our species can bestow.

This Sunday, I want you to consider your own highest gifts and blessings. From where did they spring? What are you doing with them, now, and what will you do with them in the future?

Now, as for the additional thought…this was my original post on the subject at Facebook, a few short minutes ago (if you want to read my public posts at Facebook, go here):

One of my best friends just pointed out that everything in life, good and bad, is a learning experience. As a writer, I tend to observe much, even when I don’t seem to be taking it in…the hope is that it gives my stories more weight, as I can’t help but do it anyway.

That said, as I’m in the month of June — my wedding anniversary rapidly approaches, the 14th (and 12th without my beloved husband by my side), I marvel at the changes life has brought. Some have been horrible. Some have been remarkably good.

But to get to Michael, to be with him, to hear him laugh and to create works with him was my most precious joy. I’d not change any of that for the world.

Thus are today’s Sunday thoughts.

Any questions?

Written by Barb Caffrey

June 12, 2016 at 6:26 am

Thoughts on Bujold’s “Gentleman Jole and the Red Queen”

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Folks, yesterday I reviewed Lois McMaster Bujold’s GENTLEMAN JOLE AND THE RED QUEEN over at Shiny Book Review (SBR for short, as always**). I enjoyed Bujold’s newest novel, the latest in her long-running Vorkosigan Saga, and said so over at SBR.

But the longer I pondered Bujold’s excellent book, the more I felt I had to talk about…and some of my thoughts just wouldn’t fit into a well-ordered review no matter how hard I tried. Which is why I decided to come over here instead, to my personal blog, and try to discuss some of the issues Bujold raised.

Because I need to discuss GENTLEMAN JOLE AND THE RED QUEEN in depth, I’m likely to discuss spoilers. If you haven’t read this book yet, but you intend on doing so, you probably should not read this blog until you have. (On the other hand, if you have no intention of reading Bujold, but just want to read my thoughts about a widow well past fifty finding new love again, all unlooked for, here’s your opportunity to do so.)

One, final caveat: As this isn’t the first time Bujold has discussed the ramifications of death in the Vorkosigan Saga — far from it — long-time readers of my blog may notice certain themes I’ve discussed before with regards to Bujold.

Anyway, here are some of my further thoughts about GENTLEMAN JOLE AND THE RED QUEEN:

  • Bujold is bang-on the mark when it comes to depicting a widow, Cordelia Naismith Vorkosigan, who truly loved her husband, and has felt the depths of despair.
  • Again, Bujold is bang-on the mark when it comes to how much widowhood has changed Cordelia. In some senses, Cordelia is much older, mentally, than she was when her beloved husband Aral was alive. This is due to grief, loss, and the frustration of no longer being able to be with her beloved husband. (Even in the far future, death can come suddenly and without warning — and thus it did for Aral.)
  • Bujold continues to get it right while showcasing what a powerful woman does without her powerful husband at her side. Cordelia is too strong a person and too complex, besides, to allow grief to devour her. (But in some ways, it was a near thing.)
  • I enjoyed the mature version of Oliver Jole, a character mostly seen in passing at a much younger age in THE VOR GAME. (At that time, Jole was a Lieutenant attached to Aral Vorkosigan’s staff.) He’s smart, has a similar background to Aral Vorkosigan and indeed knew Aral quite well in more than one sense…and yet, like Cordelia, he’s a man at loose ends. The fact that Jole is fifty and Cordelia is in her mid-seventies doesn’t matter one bit, because the pull between them — once acknowledged — is more than strong enough to deal with the age difference.
  • I even understood why Cordelia, once she felt alive again, wanted to bring more children into the world. (Children, I must note, that are to be fathered by her dead husband Aral’s sperm, and her own long-ago frozen ova.) It’s a subconscious way of declaring that she has more to do…and Cordelia, throughout the Vorkosigan Saga, has always been a maternal figure. (Having only one biological child never did suit Cordelia too well, methinks.)

These were the major things I thought while I read GENTLEMAN JOLE AND THE RED QUEEN at least seven times prior to reviewing the book.

But you might be wondering why I put a LGBT tag on this book, especially if you haven’t gone to read my review yet. (If not, tsk, tsk!)

It’s simple. Oliver Jole is bisexual. He’s not been attracted to too many women in his life as he seems far more drawn to men. But he’s powerfully attracted to Cordelia, and he’s not sure why.

Some reviewers at Amazon and elsewhere have taken Bujold to task for making Jole bisexual instead of a gay man inexplicably attracted to a straight woman. I don’t see it that way, however, because sexuality is on a continuum. Some men are only attracted to women, while some other men are only attracted to men. And the rest are in the middle somewhere, actually attracted to both in a way that’s going to make itself be heard…that is just the way human biology works.

Or to put it another way that’s closer to home: My husband’s brother, Sam, was a proud gay man. But Michael told me that Sam dated two women that Michael was aware of, and Sam showed every indication of being attracted to these women…Michael told me this in a bemused voice, but said he would’ve been happy if Sam had found anyone he liked, regardless of gender identity or sexual preference. Because love matters more than the outward form.

That’s why I have no problem with Oliver Jole being attracted to Cordelia. It’s quite possible that Cordelia herself is so attractive, it doesn’t matter what the outside shape of her form is. But if Jole is attracted to her body as well as her mind, so what? (Either way, it works.)

I also don’t have a problem with Cordelia taking up with Oliver, either. She’s been widowed for three years when she starts a relationship up with Oliver (as I read this section, I thought, Oh, Cordelia. You think it’s bad after three years, don’t you? Try eleven.), so there’s been plenty of time for her to adjust to her new reality.

Ah, but I can hear you now, readers. “But Barb,” you protest. “It took you at least six years to even begin to deal with your husband’s untimely passing. Why is Cordelia different?”

There are a number of reasons why. First, Cordelia got many more years with her husband than I managed to get with mine. Second, Aral Vorkosigan was over eighty years old when he passed away, and my husband Michael was only forty-six. And third, Aral Vorkosigan had done everything he sought out to do…while my husband was still in the process of making a name for himself as a writer and editor, but didn’t get the chance to see most of his work come to fruition.

Plus, every widow and widower’s grief journey is different. Some people grieve for years, then remarry happily. (I’ve known a couple of younger widowers in this position.) Some grieve for a couple of years, then somehow set most of the worst signs of grief aside but don’t date. And some, like me, take years and years to process it all, then figure out a coping mechanism (mine, obviously, is in finishing up my husband’s writing, because I can’t bear to see it incomplete) so they can get on with life whether they ever date again or not.

Grief is a very individual thing, you see. But one thing is very obvious about grief that many reviewers of GENTLEMAN JOLE AND THE RED QUEEN are completely overlooking.

You see, grief changes you. It can’t help but do that. You are in so much pain, and you hurt so deeply, that you can’t be exactly the same after someone you dearly loved passes from this plane of existence.

So the comments on Amazon and elsewhere that go along the lines of, “But, but, Cordelia is a shadow of her former self! And that’s not right!” have it all wrong.

Yes, Cordelia, when she starts out Bujold’s newest novel, may be seen to be lesser than she used to be. Her beloved husband is dead, and she’s been without him for three years. That can’t help but to have marked her…now, all she can do is go on (which, I note, is what Aral would want her to do), and try to do the best she can with the time she has left — which in Bujold’s universe could be another forty years, for all Cordelia knows.

Bujold characterized widowhood correctly, folks. You might not like what being a widow has done to Cordelia — mind, if you asked Cordelia prior to the start of GENTLEMAN JOLE AND THE RED QUEEN, she’d probably tell you she doesn’t like it, either — but Cordelia’s feelings and demeanor are accurate. Much of Cordelia’s fire is now hidden, because the loss of Aral, her husband, is just that profound…and even though she’s quite happy to be with Oliver after a while, Oliver is still not Aral, so not all of Cordelia’s fire comes back.

I understand this, and I hope it’s not just because I, too, am a widow who lost a dearly beloved husband.

Anyway, GENTLEMAN JOLE AND THE RED QUEEN is an unabashed science fiction/romance hybrid. I loved it, and thought it had depth, passion, wit, warmth, style, and great characterization.

But I can see where some people really would rather not see Cordelia so diminished (at least, before Cordelia decides to live again — and that decision, I might add, comes before she realizes Oliver is interested in her, much less they do anything about that interest). Because pain is hard to bear, even in a book…and Bujold is one of the best in the business at conveying that pain, even indirectly as through the excessively analytical Cordelia.


**– Note: Shiny Book Review is now found at the domain — with an -s after review — as our old domain name was bought by someone else.  If you’re following SBR, please make sure to follow it as shinybookreviews with the -s. We now return you to your regularly scheduled blog, already in progress…

Buddha’s Advice for the Grieving (An Apocryphal Story)

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Folks, it’s that time of year again. It’s the holiday season, and as I’ve written before, here and here, it’s the time of the year when grieving people feel the most alone and misunderstood.

We feel isolated, you see. And that sense of isolation gets worse when you hear all the festive music, see all the twinkling holiday lights…so many people are bustling around buying gifts, you’d think that was the only reason anyone ever had to celebrate Hanukkah, the Winter Solstice, Christmas, or any other celebration save Festivus.

For some reason tonight, I was thinking about a story my late husband Michael told me about Gautama Buddha. (Michael was a Zen Buddhist.) This is in my best paraphrase, and does not come from a holy text — but I hope it will prove enlightening despite its apocryphal nature.

A distraught woman came to the Buddha and said, “I feel terrible. I grieve so much — surely there is some place on this Earth where people don’t hurt like this? Teach me, Buddha.”

And the Buddha is said to have told her, “I cannot give you this answer. But if you go around the world, ask people about grief. Then come back and let me know; I want the answer, too.”

So the woman went around the world and asked if anyone had the answers.

What she found is that everyone grieved something. Whether it was the loss of a loved one, the loss of a beloved pet, the loss of opportunities, even the loss of jobs, everyone grieved about something.

So the woman went back to the Buddha and said, “I did not find anyone who does not grieve, Buddha. Now what?”

And the Buddha gently told her, “Daughter, that is your answer.”

You see, if we all realized that we all grieve, there would be more understanding in this world. And understanding is the key to peace, if not necessarily the key to happiness itself…and it is understanding, along with the love of friends and family, that can help you when you feel lost and alone due to grief.

That does not take the grief away, mind. Nothing can.

But if you can talk about it, if you can accept it, that is the first step toward peace during this fractious, difficult, and often frustrating holiday season.

So please, do what you can to talk with your family members this holiday season, even the difficult ones who suffer from grief, anxiety, frustration, angst…try to show them kindness, love, and support.

That, to my mind, is the best gift you can possibly give during this holiday season.