Complicated Grief

I am starting to think as a culture and a country we are suffering from complicated grief. We don’t seem to get over things anymore much as someone who has been hit time after time by life gets to a place where stuck-ness and sadness and rage become a constant state of existence.

We lack rituals for transitions unless you count sports events and I don’t. We don’t acknowledge that our children going from our laps to their peers hurts.  The little girl who you used to take with you everywhere becomes a teen who hates you.  It’s temporary but the little girl is gone and you must find something to love in this new creature giving you the finger.  Saying goodbye to the younger child can be critical to forming a new relationship with a teen and then an adult and then a newlywed, etc.

Much time when I was still a therapist was spent helping parents acknowledge the sadness underneath their anger.  Acknowledging that the 8 year child is gone and missed and this 14 year old isn’t much fun usually shifted everything to more solutions and less complaining. Rituals of saying goodbye and mourning the change helped immensely.

I saw and still see the same things with people in their 50s approaching retirement.  Mostly women come to therapy so that’s what I’m more familiar with but it’s hard for women to say goodbye to careers. Especially if that career has been long term.

The career has been there like an anchor through divorce, remarriage, children growing up, leaving and parents dying.  Your career was a lifeline through many storms and changes so when you see the end of the road approaching the fight to hang on can be extremely difficult if you don’t acknowledge it and say goodbye even if only in your mind.  If you don’t effectively say goodbye your transition into retirement can be pretty ugly.  These are the people that retire and die a year later in my opinion.  We must have something to move toward when we are leaving something behind.

It’s hard for some people to see the younger generation sweeping and making changes to all that you worked so hard to establish and they certainly don’t want to hear your war stories or why you created what you did.  It can blind you to the fact that sometimes old structures need to be knocked down and bit of chaos tossed around to create something totally new.

If you’re approaching any kind of transition say goodbye to what is leaving while you are welcoming what is coming in. It’s ok to be sad at losing anything: a friendship, a lover, a cherished pet, a child to a teen, a spouse and a career.  Hell it’s ok to be sad when trading your old car in for a new one and who hasn’t felt that little twinge?

Ritual. Use something to mark the end of a time. Write and burn letters. Plant a tree or dig up one that’s died. Hike a mountain and at the top shout into the wind what you are letting go. Just do something besides eat it, drink it or zone the pain away in front of a screen or worse let it turn into the kind of rage that burns you and everything you touch, away. Image

Call for Anthology Submissions

Wolff Den Press announces a call for anthology submissions. I want your creative, people-focused essays regarding your work in the sexual assault/abuse field. Tell me the true stories of your experiences in essay, creative non-fiction or poetry style.  I will be collecting essays until 12.31.14 or until there are enough for a book whichever comes first.

Some suggestions to think about: How did you end up working in this field?  Are you a law enforcement officer, nurse, therapist, advocate or prosecutor?  Are you a policy maker, director of an agency, a reporter?  Are you employed in probation/parole or social work? What experiences have helped form the worldview you now have regarding this sensitive subject?  What advice would you offer people choosing to begin working in this field?  What is an experience you had that still “sticks” with you?

  • non-fiction submissions only please.
  • 50 – 7500 words (please contact Michelle Wolff if your entry exceeds this limit so we can discuss)
  • submit by email to and paste your submission within the body of the email.  Please write “anthology submission” and your last name in the subject line.
  • at this time there is no payment other than publishing credit and a free digital copy (.pdf) of the final book.  If this changes via Kickstarter success or sponsorship you will be notified.
  • Publishing rights are First North American Serial Print Rights (FNASR). All rights revert to the author upon publication. This means that if the story has appeared anywhere else (even your own blog!) I cannot accept it.
  • Please contact me at if you need further guidance.

The Simplest Acts

It takes me five minutes and five dollars to run in an pick up these containers of grass for the cats. Junah loves them most and he will run over and start nibbling right away. For some reason it lessens my guilt a little that the cats can’t go outside anymore, other than in their catio, and wander the outdoor world like they used to.  It bothers me a lot to have them indoors all the time. I worry about their health even though outdoors their health was at greater risk in theory.  I worry about their mental health so I play with each of them every day to try and keep life interesting.  If we didn’t have coyotes the size of tanks around here I’d probably let them go but man, these guys are huge and since I have not seen a cat roaming since we’ve been here I have no doubts why they hang around the town home areas so often.

I don’t miss the house we lived in but I do miss the small town.  I don’t miss the commuting but I do miss the backyard and watching the cats chase each other in it.  I miss sitting outside at night listening to the sound of neighbors talking and watching the moon rise.  Someday it’s in my plan and hopefully the Great Whatever’s that we’ll own enough land to feel free again in the next 3-5 years.

So in the meantime I take the time to buy these little bits of grass for Junah and enjoy his enjoyment while he peacefully eats.Image

Choking on God

I have no idea what I’m doing.  I’m not a certified anything and have no theological training.  I’ve read the Bible in different versions and got lost in the contradictions although I did enjoy the rhythms of language in the King James Version. I’ve explored every religion or philosophy that has ever caught my fancy and what follows are my opinions, of which I have many and which I prefer to deliver unsolicited when you’re not looking.

The title for this post comes from the catch I get in my throat whenever I try to say the word, the name, God, out loud.  I hesitate. My throat closes even when I’m talking to Him, Her, It in the quiet of my own mind.

I thought for a long time it was happening because of my less than pleasant experiences with organized religion from childhood.  It wasn’t horrible it just wasn’t enlivening.  Frankly it was at best boring unless my Uncle George was preaching and because I swear he has a direct channel to G-G-God even as a kid you just had to put the tic tac toe game down and listen up.  His passion for Christianity is boundless and the most pure I’ve seen in a human.  Me, not so much.

I’ve tried calling God, God, Goddess, Mother-Father God, Great Spirit, Source, Spirit and finally to quote Martha Beck, The Great Whatever.  The Great Whatever sums it up for me but it’s hard to keep explaining what you mean by that in conversation.

On the other hand it’s hard to explain the word God as it’s used in popular culture and that is still the male deity similar to Santa Claus who watches us 24/7 and hands out rewards such as touch downs and victories in war if you’re good and say your prayers and takes it all away if you forget to brush your teeth one night.  Which by the way don’t do that, you’ll regret it in the morning and so will the person and/or pet sleeping next to you.

I don’t say God because I don’t want the package that comes with it.  I don’t want someone cursing next to me and then apologizing, like I give a shit about their use of profanity.  I don’t want the sideways looks or the catches of breath or the assumptions that I have a tiny Bible tucked in my bra.  Although I do sometimes toss a cell phone and $20 bill in there I can assure you there’s no Bible.

I don’t say God because I don’t want to be lumped in the small but astonishingly loud percentage of Americans who have turned the image of God into a rigid bossy little bastard who seems very concerned that I not have access to birth control, or any reproductive rights for that matter, but is making sure that every man on the planet can have a free lifetime supply of Viagra.

I don’t say God because I don’t want anything labeled for me especially something as deep and wide as God which when labeled is suddenly reduced to something which I cannot recognize. I also don’t want to be shoved in a box and ascribed a narrow set of behaviors that come with the word which typically follows God and that’s Christian.

I would love to identify as Christian if it simply meant I do think Jesus was one of a series of incredibly powerful dudes that have come along throughout time to help us stumble through our evolution without blowing up the entire world.  I don’t want to be in the syrupy harsh judgmental fakeness of the terrified masses who believe out of the fear of what might happen if they don’t believe.  Why our popular concept has become that group alone I don’t know but I don’t like it.  I’m guessing it’s because that group can get pretty loud at times.

Like many others I believe in something Other because I have felt Its hand on my back when I was in danger or near death. Or when I wanted to kill myself or someone else. Or give up entirely on everything. I believe because I feel a deep slow heartbeat when I quiet my restless mind enough to listen. It’s certainly not my heartbeat and for the reasons given I can’t and won’t even try to define what it is or where it comes from but it is there.  I hear it loud and clear.

I like what Jesus is recorded as saying. I also like what Buddha said and Mohammed, Lao Tzu, Martha Beck and that guy who wrote “Kissing Fish: Christianity for People Who Don’t Like Christianity”.  Smart, wise people who are doing their best to help the rest of us get there too are worth reading.

I do say the word God in my heart where no one can hear and interpret what I mean.

I say God when the color of the air at twilight strikes me with a peace so deep I can’t help but cry and think if my dying day is going to be anything like day dying into night then I don’t mind so much.

I also say Goddess, Yahweh, Christ and Abba.  I say Father and Mother, Source and Spirit.  Most of the time I say “Help!” hoping something or someone will hear me.

Here’s the thing that really burns my waffles the most though and that is – why does anyone care what I say or what I believe?  Say your word and I’ll say mine. I’m guessing I’ll see you wherever we end up anyway regardless of labels.

You can call me names, try to limit those I love, make a bunch of asinine laws and protest funerals but in spite of all that I’ll do my best to love you while we’re on the planet together.  Because that’s what Jesus really would do.Image

Grieving the Living

My Aunt is dying.

She is the one I remember best of my father’s 6 sisters. She babysat me. Let me eat as many Mrs. Baird’s white bread and mayo sandwiches that I wanted. Let me stare at her bright red fingernails and fiddle with her jet black hair. She told me that I could do anything I put my mind to at a time when I doubted I could even survive adolescence.

For some reason I believed her, and although I didn’t act on that at the time and dropped out of school anyway, I eventually got a GED.  I spent a couple of years as an EMT on the sweaty streets of Ft Worth, became a wife and mother and ended up many years later with a Master’s degree and so far a life lived with few regrets.  I never forgot the look on her face when she told me she had faith in me and I never will.

I find her imminent exit from the mortal coil to be not only sad in and of itself but also a trigger for all the remaining grief of her brother, my father’s, untimely death that I’ve managed to keep at bay for 2.5-ish years.  His was a senseless death from which I may never recover.  This all then cascades into the death of my soul dog Scarlett, my other darling dogs Chloe, Bugsy and sweet, complicated Ivy all of whom died in an 18 month span of time between 2010 and 2012.

I can safely say Dad and Scarlett are tangled together due to timing and how these emotional events become a strange unresolved soup impossible to define or separate.  Sort of like trying to make split pea soup back into single round peas. Can’t be done.

I drove the nearly 13 hours to Texas to see my Aunt so I could feel, cry and think unobserved by others.  Sometimes Grief needs a Witness, sometimes when its old and dirty and consists of hard rocks that get stuck in the throat, it needs Solitude.

I didn’t do any of those things on the drive.  I listened to NPR, ate peanut butter and raisin balls and watched the flat of Colorado transition to the flat of West Texas.  I drank in the miles and miles of wildflowers, choked up a little at the sight of the Trinity River and the  lush, green trees and lawns of Ft. Worth.  I didn’t even feel very emotional on the drive.  Not numb either. Just…not much of anything.

Instead I broke down in public, in the rose gardens of the Ft Worth Botanical Society, the last place on earth I wanted to display an emotion.

I don’t know if it was the beauty and the fact that my Aunt said she had asked God to see one more Spring when we all know God is not likely to overcome what her free will, genetics and a touch of Fate, has done to her body.

It might have been the heat which was oppressive even at 1030am. It might have been the hangover from dinner at my friend Sharna’s house, sitting for hours with red wine out back on her Magic Patio or the full moon or the knowledge that my father’s family is year by year disappearing from my view.

Whatever it was I was grateful that the rose gardens are so large that there are plenty of hiding spaces.  If anyone noticed my dissolving they had the good sense which comes from being raised in the Southern states to politely avert ones eyes and walk slightly faster away from any public display such as mine.

It was if I’d been biking hard for miles, the speed of which keeps you dry and oblivious to pain until you stop. Then your legs are shaking up and down like they are typing the next Great American Novel and you are suddenly aware of all the aches that biking brings.  You become instantly drenched and dripping with the sweat of your ride and there’s nothing you can do about it but wait for your body to calm down.

I guess the rose garden was my stopping point, the Willow tree my witness and the Magnolia tree my comfort and hope.

They don’t call women Steel Magnolias for nothin’.  The Southern heat literally incinerates roses and other fragile blooms into brown dust while the Magnolia blooms on oblivious.  Its waxy leaves are impervious to the wilting humidity and underneath the trees is a dense cool shade that smells earthy and intense.  It comes of the rotting layers of golden leaves and dirt and spent blooms and is not at all unpleasant.  The Magnolia in fact thrives and the trees grow as tall as skyscrapers.

The more the heat tries to destroy them the more beautiful they grow and the sweeter they smell.

As most grieving people know, in the back of my mind I’m aware this will pass.  I know that grieving all the losses of the past and now my Aunt, will be chipped away over time. All I can do is bear the crush of the waves when they come, focus on the Magnolia and hope that I too can survive the heat with beauty and grace.

*my Aunt is farthest Left and my father is in the center.


“Army Strong”. Did you mean “Army Raped”?

This morning as I was indulging my Twitter addiction I saw a tweet from the Atlantic Wire regarding an Army official in charge of a sexual assault prevention office. He is under investigation for multiple charges related to sexual misconduct.

What? Hold the phone Mister! Isn’t that the Air Force? I didn’t have my glasses on so I thought surely that has to be a misprint of the earlier Air Force debacle.  Well no, I wasn’t misreading it. It was true and at first I was shocked, for a moment. Perhaps a nanosecond went by before my brain woke up and regained its usual state of pragmatic cynicism about these issues.

I’m glad to see these issues finally getting the attention they deserve. I’m disappointed by the antics that public officials go through in expressing their moral outrage at such horror and misconduct among those we trust with our national security and even more, the health and well-being of our soldiers.

Really? C’mon now these issues are not at all new! These have been ongoing in a frustratingly painful way in all branches of the Armed Forces for years! Is the Tailhook scandal that easily forgotten?  How about the movie, The Invisible War?  Not so invisible this week!

This ain’t nothing new and we shouldn’t be running around acting like it is. In December 2012 the Defense Department reported scandalous increases in assaults in 3 military colleges.  Numerous reports have been issued defining the problem but it seems to stay in discussion for way too long as evidenced by the Air Force reinstating their own convicted sexual offender after they overturned Lt. Col. James Wilkerson’s conviction.

His punishment for aggravated sexual assault? He can’t get any more promotions. Wow that’s pretty harsh! No more promotions but he gets to go right back to his life with zero consequences for reprehensible behavior?  I believe there was another one recently overturned however it’s still early and the more references I find the more frustrated I become so you’re on your own with Google to track that one down.

I’m glad these issues have hit the press so hard that no one can deny them this week. However one of my concerns is that it will be a “this week” phenomenon and the military will do what is has always done in times of scandal which is to wait for the fuss to die down so they can continue on ad infinitum.

Another concern is backlash articles that are attempting to use this as an excuse to deny women their right to be in combat.  This is ridiculous since they already are and have been in combat for years. They won the right to be acknowledged and I’ve seen several blogs pointing to the sex scandals as a reason why women shouldn’t be fighting alongside men.

If you use that junk logic then you have to say men shouldn’t be fighting alongside men either since all victims are not female!  Play it out another step and women shouldn’t be working alongside men in any field since apparently according to these detractors men are rabid sex starved beasts raping everyone they can get their hands, so to speak, on.

“Sorry boss I can’t come to work today because I’m female. Why does it matter? Well I’m hearing that if I work along with men I’m going to get raped. Since I already know that now if I come to work and do get raped it will be my own damn fault so I’ll be looking for another job where only women work.”


My biggest concern is the frantic attempts by people to discredit the victims by writing about unsubstantiated reports as false reports.  To me this is a blatant misuse of the media and although that happens every day in this case it seems to rise to an extra level of evil.  It’s downright frightening how the public’s misunderstanding of the differences between the two terms can cause so much damage to so many people.

If you’re not familiar with the issues please take the time to educate yourself. Contact your local rape crisis center or sexual assault advocacy group. In Colorado please go talk to the Colorado Coalition Against Sexual Assault ( before believing any of the statistic salad being tossed around right now.

Numbers don’t prove anything. Misused terms and definitions don’t prove anything. The proof is people are being harmed and whether or not you choose to believe it’s only a few rather than the absurdly high numbers that actually exist that is your right however even a few, is a few too many.

The Responsibility of Serving Others

On Friday April 19, after getting my courage up, i took 2 feral cats we’ve spent months working on socializing, to the closest clinic that will provide spay/neuter services to ferals.  When you live in rural areas options are limited for these services and you count on the ones that are available.

I paid extra not to have their ears tipped. I have been teetering on the edge of just taking them in and making our house a 4 feline abode so I wanted their ears left intact. I left them there after requesting an early pickup of 1230pm instead of 430pm since I live some distance away.

By 1240pm they were in the car and I had paid the bill and donated $10 extra and said a million thanks.

On the way home I had to roll the window down the smell of urine in the car was so extreme. I just assumed they’d set the carrier in some piss or something. When I got them locked in my office at home and opened the carrier doors I was horrified to discover that they were dripping urine off their fur.

When I say dripping I mean as if you poured a bucket of urine over them. I was so stunned I couldn’t believe it. I couldn’t open the door or the windows and we were all gagging on the stench.  I was able to pet the younger one that we call Junah a few moments. He was less wet because his carrier had a cloth bottom (destroyed by the urine soaking into the inner wood core aloss of $45.00).

I had to get towels, they were dripping urine on the carpet and had flung it onto my pastels (a loss of $50.00 as the urine soaked into them). I thought I was opening the door fast enough but Junah escaped, running so fast for the cat door I couldn’t catch him.  More upset now that the young one, only a few hours out of surgery, was now loose in the neighborhood and as the reality of how they’d been treated started to sneak in I stopped crying and began to get angry.

I got the towels and spread them around. The older one we call Hoot is still untouchable but at least he could sit on a towel and drip. He was already trying to clean himself, cheeks up in disgust.  The stench in the room was making my eyes water, I felt so bad for him with the more sensitive senses and I was crying again worrying about Junah stumbling around outdoors. I was just grateful it was a relatively warm day.

I left a long message for Every Creature Counts, the clinic that had done the deed. I thought back to the over 25 or more animals I’ve taken in for surgery throughout my pet owning life and no, I had never once gotten one back wet and certainly not neglected to this extent. I struggled with my emotions which ranged from sorrow and regret to guilt for taking them there to rage at people who would allow this to happen to a vulnerable animal.

And while being soaked in urine for hours is not the worst that could have happened (they could have died from bad care) but it calls into question – what else is happening in that clinic? Are other animals dying? Are the clinic conditions sterile at all?  Who is monitoring this place and when is the last time they took a look?

It is now Monday evening and it took this long to find the right agency in which to report the negligence. ECC did not return my call.  I have posted negative reviews and I will be following up with every agency I can find.

I am not a grievance filer. I will call and complain about bad service and I will also call and compliment the good. I have donated an art gift certificate to their fundraising efforts and wasn’t offered a ticket to the event or ever told what happened to it. I let that go because I know what non-profits are like. I put up with their spotty communication when I’ve had questions in the past. I ignored the other bad reviews.

This one I am not letting go. I can’t.

When we take our animals to vets and children to doctors and dentists we expect that they will be treated well. We have to trust that what needs to be done will be done. I find it hard leaving any animal at the vet, they can’t tell me how it went, Hoot and Junah didn’t need words to let me know that no one had cared for their well-being and comfort.

Although pets aren’t property in my mind vets are invested with a fiduciary responsibility to the animals they agree to treat. Not only vets but all the staff from the receptionist to the board members to the licensing boards and the owners of the clinics.  We are giving them lives that are precious to us and we expect that responsibility will be taken seriously.

When we take our animals in, we are handing over pieces of our hearts to people we sometimes don’t know. At ECC I’ve never even seen the vet and although the last 2 animals I took in were fine, it was a different vet from this one who couldn’t even accurately estimate the cats ages.  The other vet could.

Just because a clinic is low cost should not mean our animals get low service.  These 2 cats have led hard and painful lives so far. Their experiences with us as humans have been mixed. Lately they’ve had it good, regular food, shelter from the elements and an invitation to move indoors which they both took over the course of several months and now they’ve experienced what they expected all along. Carelessness and callous disregard.

This changes what I can do in our community for Trap-Neuter-Return as now the closest clinic is an hour away versus 20 minutes.  It also costs more which means less animals get TNR services.  This is disappointing on so many levels.

Lesson? Don’t ignore bad reviews on Google and Yelp. Ask to meet the vet first, talk to some prior clients. CHECK THE ANIMALS STATUS BEFORE YOU LEAVE!  And if you fall victim to an incident like this report it, It has been time consuming leaving calls with agencies to find the right avenue but do it – the animals have no voice.

We must be the vox felina and canis and we must speak for them all the time without fail.  We too are responsible for those we agree to serve.

And so you know, Hoot and Junah (who returned 8 hours later) stunk of urine for two days.  Their incisions are adequate and they are recovering nicely in spite of their neglectful care.  Thank you to everyone, again, for all the support for these cats! Image

Wind Chimes and Silent Snow

Weight of the world day,

Explosions rock our sense of security,


While we wrestle with dread of gun registries,

As if we fear our own government,

More than any Al Qaeda.

More than any Bin Laden,

We worry what those we put in charge,

Will do or not do,

To us and for us.

As if having a secret gun in the closet,

Will save us from tanks,

Or worse,

And more real,

The slow erosion of our freedoms,

Happening right under our noses.

The bankers are still making their,

Multi-million dollar bonuses,

And I will never see the end of student loan debt,

No rest for the wicked possibly.

The cries of the wrong things,

The frightening things,

Are stunning and loud,

My ears cannot bear the noise,

The screams,

The shattering glass,

The shattered faith.

I follow a cat out into the night,

For I can think of nothing better to do,

Having gorged on too much Huffington Post,

And done time in the Twitter-verse.

It’s freezing outside,


Which at first only adds to the despairing breeze,

Until a thread of wind chimes,

Soft in the distance,

Winds through the madness of the day,

Quiets the mind just enough,

To take a full breath,

To remember where true security resides,

To hear only,

The silent snow.

copyright Michelle Wolff 2013chimes