Fleeting moments surround the empty nest

Fleeting moments surround the empty nest

This past weekend was Lollapalooza, which has become a tradition. Two years ago, my daughter and I, along with her friend, made our first trip together to Chicago for the acclaimed music festival. My daughter’s sweet sixteen present was four-day passes, round-trip airfare, and hotel accommodations (and a chaperone) for her and her friend.  Last summer they had jobs to pay (most) of their own way and talked me into getting the hotel again (thankfully, I had points to use). Read more

3 months and counting

3 months and counting

It’s been over six months since I wrote about the countdown to high school graduation. While I am committed to being respectful of my daughter’s privacy, sharing only minimally about her here, I am entitled to a proud mom moment every once in a while, right?

My daughter was accepted into a four-year college in Chicago (one of her top choices). This might not seem like an impossible feat. Especially here where we live. 89% of our high school graduates go on to attend four-year colleges (95% go on to some post-secondary education). But for us it seemed like a long road.

My daughter was always someone who has marched to the beat of her own drum. My parents described her as “a spirited child.” One of the biggest challenges I’ve faced as her parent is that she never accepts the status quo; always looking deeper, always challenging. Her middle school guidance counselor said this was a personality trait that would serve her well in college and career, not so much in middle and high school.

She encountered a structure perhaps too rigid for her personality and learning style. While that was somewhat demotivating for her, my cancer diagnosis and then losing her father when and how she did certainly had an impact on the secure life she had known at home.

“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”

– Viktor Frankl

My daughter’s high school transcript does not show the good choices that she has made and the maturity and growth that she possessed in managing grief and loss on top of the struggles of adolescence. By her junior year she was facing the possibility that maybe a four-year college wasn’t in the cards for her.

But I believed in her. And she believed in herself. We both ignored the naysayers and last summer I took a risk and made an investment in a 3-week college program for her at this school in Chicago. It wasn’t in the budget.

She got an A in the course and proved to everyone she could do college level work. Then she came back to start her senior year and made the honor roll! She finally took the SATs and did much better than expected. She courageously applied to a bunch of four-year schools.

There were a number of disappointments before the email from Chicago. Her surge in the last quarter of the race however, paid off. But most importantly – and what makes me the most proud – is that she mustered the courage to start; she put herself out there when others were telling her that it was a long shot. She didn’t settle for anything less than what she wanted. She set her sights higher and didn’t listen to anyone who told her it couldn’t be done.

That should be a lesson to all of us. Ignore the naysayers. Don’t give them power over you. Be courageous. Focus on your own dreams. Don’t back down. One foot in front of the other. Forward. Commencement.

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The New York City skyline as seen on my run through the Heights of Ridgewood, New Jersey. March 2018.

This week in Marathon Training (getting real now! -only 5 weeks to go)…Screen Shot 2018-03-26 at 11.04.35 AM

Twenty miles was the longest I’ve run in almost 2 years and was a big jump from the 16 miles I ran 2 weeks ago. I took it slowly with a goal of only covering the distance comfortably.

7 Ways to Survive the Holidays after loss

7 Ways to Survive the Holidays after loss

This post is meant as a complement to what I wrote in August about ways to survive and thrive after the loss of a spouse. Holidays obviously can be difficult for anyone dealing with loss. Admittedly, even this year, my fourth holiday season since my husband died, I’ve really only mastered “surviving.”

Last Thanksgiving I hosted “Friendsgiving” (read about it here). That alienated my daughter. Not knowing all of the invited guest very well, she opted to spend the holiday with her friend’s family. So that didn’t feel right either. This year I asked her what she wanted to do. She asked that we cook a meal together (anything but Turkey) and put up the Christmas decorations.

What have I learned about at least surviving the holidays? Read more

My Story: Part 2

My Story: Part 2

This is the story I published on LinkedIn last year, as it was shared by Kelly Anderson in her blog Red Head on the Run, on November 16, 2015:

Not Your Typical Breast Cancer Story

I was planning to run the 2014 NJ Marathon. I was diagnosed with breast cancer 11 weeks into the 16 week training program, so I did what any newly diagnosed woman would do, I took to the Internet to research my disease. I found a lot of stuff that scared the crap out of me, so I registered for the Chicago Marathon instead. Figured I needed a plan B.

I did get to run NJ on April 27 (missed a BQ by 2 min and 50 seconds) and had my surgery 10 days later. I had a lumpectomy. All came back good. I took 5 weeks off from running and scheduled 4 weeks of radiation over the summer. I decided to defer Chicago rather than try to train through all of that. I finally ran Chicago this year! I missed a BQ again, but raised almost $6000 for charity. Here is my complete story which explains why I didn’t raise money for breast cancer…….

I am sharing my story with you as a way of creating awareness for something not talked about enough. I hope it can save a life.

I’m a runner. I often run to reduce stress and keep my sanity. I ran a lot in 2014. This year, the Chicago Marathon completed my fifth full marathon. Like the other four, I had decided to use my participation in this event to raise money for charity. In the past, I have raised a significant amount of money for a variety of charities that meant something to me; maybe because I worked for the organization and had a really good understanding of their work, or maybe because a friend or family member was personally touched by the cause. This time, the cause is more personal.

In the Spring of 2014 I became a breast cancer survivor, but I’m not raising money for breast cancer. A lot of people raise money for breast cancer. I am thankful for that. Because of the funds raised for breast cancer I received an early diagnosis. I had access to great medical care and treatment.

My cancer was diagnosed at a time when I was experiencing a level of stress that can only be described as toxic. In recent years I had lost both of my parents and a close Aunt and Uncle. I had managed the care and personal affairs of both my mother and aunt – both diagnosed with alzheimer’s – in their final years of life. I worked stressful jobs with horrendous commutes because they provided the resources I needed to support my family. My husband had been laid off from a job in late 2003 and never went back to work. I was doing everything I could to keep it together for my family.

I believe, based on what I read, that stress played a large role in my cancer. After my surgery I began counseling, something I would never have considered in the past; but I didn’t think I would be much good to my family if I didn’t get help. I had to pay out-of-pocket. It wasn’t covered by insurance, but I didn’t care. I would make sacrifices in other areas. When I was the CEO of Gilda’s Club Northern New Jersey (a cancer support organization), I learned how important social and emotional support is when living with cancer. I also learned that a cancer diagnosis doesn’t just happen to the individual but it affects the whole family. I urged my husband to seek support as well.

I completed my last radiation treatment on August 19, 2014 and I’m now happy to report I’m cancer free (and keeping my fingers crossed that I remain so). After going through a cancer diagnosis, surgery and treatment, I never imagined that anything else could change my life the way that experience did; but I was wrong.

October 6, 2014 began like any other day. I dropped my daughter off at school (she had just started her freshman year in high school), my husband and I dealt with some house issues and financial concens in the morning and then I was off to Starbucks to do some work on my laptop and meet a business colleague. When I returned home a little after 5:00 that evening, I found a note taped to the garage door. It read: “I am in the garage. Probably dead. Don’t let (our daughter) see me. Love, Chris.” My husband of 21 years and 4 months, my daughter’s father, had committed suicide.

It was only then that I realized that he too had a disease. Mental illness is a disease; but, like in his case, it often goes undiagnosed and untreated until it’s too late. There were times over the years that I knew something was wrong. In the months leading up to his death I urged him to seek help, but he didn’t want to go to a therapist because, unlike my breast cancer treatments, it wasn’t covered by insurance. He felt we didn’t have any more money to spend on something like that and I really had no idea how bad he was.

Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States; more people die of suicide than in car accidents. In 2010, the total number of suicide deaths in the United States was 38,364. Historically, suicide rates rise during times of financial stress and economic setbacks. In 2009 it was the 7th leading cause of death for males, and the 16th leading cause of death for females. Suicide was the third leading cause of death for young people ages 15 to 24. From 1999 to 2010, the suicide rate among Americans, aged 35 to 64 increased nearly 30 percent. The largest increases were among men in their 50s, and women 60 to 64, at rates of 50 and 60 percent, respectively. Older adults are disproportionately likely to die by suicide.

So much needs to be done to advocate for better care and treatment of mental illness, to educate the public about the warning signs of suicide, and to provide support to families in crisis. I think it can be argued that mental health issues are at the root of so many of society’s problems; contributing to other diseases like cancer and heart disease to being the issue behind substance abuse, and gun violence.

Breast cancer was a lot less treatable – and survivable – when people decided to raise money to change that. It’s time to put that kind of power behind mental health. We can make a difference. Running the Chicago Marathon this year was an effort to raise funds for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. It is their goal to reduce the annual suicide rate in the United States 20% by 2025. They fund suicide prevention research, provide education to create a culture that is smart about mental health and they provide evidence-based programs for schools, colleges and hospitals. They advocate for policies that will improve mental health services and reduce suicide. And they provide support to those who struggle with thoughts of suicide and they also help loss survivors heal.

I am running the NJ Marathon on Sunday.  With some more of the emotional baggage behind me, I want to give the BQ one more shot. I am also still raising money for AFSP and hoping to reach that goal too. The link to my fundraising page: http://afsp.donordrive.com/campaign/Connolly.

Most importantly, learn everything you can about preventing suicide and advocate for better mental health. Thank you!

356534_208268929_XLarge2015 Chicago Marathon Finisher