Thursday Re-View — “When Did I Start to Look Like My Mother?”

When I glanced at myself in a mirror the other day, I thought I saw my mother.

That’s pretty hard to do when she passed away more than 25 years ago. But really – I thought I saw my mother. Or at least someone who looked an awfully lot like her.

That someone was me.

Wow. What an eye-opener…

When did I get so old? When did my jowls start to sag and my hair start to show some gray? What about those lines in my face or that strange growth underneath my neck? The swollen ankles? The beginnings of an apple shape when I used to only be a pear?

body type

Like I said, when did I start to look like my mother? When I looked in the mirror and a stranger looked back, it was me. That’s sobering.

Remember when your parents used to warn you about how “time flies” when you get older? I think time must have flown on the wings of a supersonic bird for this transformation to have taken place. Maybe even a pterodactyl…

It’s time for a reality check. Let’s survey this venerable temple of mine to see its history.

That knot of muscle sticking out of my left shoulder? That formed the day my son got his tonsils out in 1st grade. I hadn’t met the surgeon ahead of time, and the thought of having my only child go under the knife with a stranger had me at the Emergency Room the night after his successful surgery, in pain. That knot gets worked on every two weeks by my faithful massage therapist, 20 + years later. A badge of honor…

That crevice line on my forehead, just between and above my eyes? That’s from hearing hour after hour of tragic situations from my patients/clients/students over the years – the loss, abuse, addiction, mental illness, shame, suicidal thoughts… It takes its toll.

That vertical abdominal scar that no amount of vitamin E could make disappear? That’s the Caesarean section (almost) 28 years ago for the birth of my son. I can still remember the feeling of the two surgeons’ hands inside my body (yes, you do feel pressure, but no pain with an epidural). Or else it’s from the hysterectomy that was recommended I have 2 years later because of my cancer history.

That cough that turns up when I laugh too much? That’s from 7th grade, when my teacher used to actually take points away from all my tests (I almost always got 100’s because I studied all the time), explaining to my parents and me, “Theresa doesn’t need all those As; other students in the class need them more.” It was weeks until our family doctor determined that my cough was stress-related; after all, it wasn’t fair that the As I worked so hard for were taken away from me, was it? What a fine example of a teacher…

Those cracked caps on my back teeth? Those came from when I fainted in the bathroom while recovering from “GOK (God Only Knows) Disease” and clenched my teeth when I hit the floor. After which my brain couldn’t put together thoughts, let alone sentences for almost 2 months… The only way this wordsmith could survive that frustrating period was to figure out that maybe God wanted me to be quiet and listen.

That tiny scar in the upper right quadrant of my abdomen? That’s the emergency gall bladder surgery, where my gall bladder went from 100% to zero percent functioning in what seemed like the space of a day. I never really liked fried foods that much anyway…

Those skin indentations on my face that look like scars every morning? That’s from the face mask that I have to wear because I stop breathing 11 times every hour while asleep – that’s with the C-pap machine. The good news is that the impressions disappear about an hour after I start the day.

That shadow of sadness that lurks deep within my eyes? That goes along with the crevice line on my forehead (see above) along with struggles with depression. You know – that “melancholy” that fueled Abraham Lincoln’s greatness and made him the perfect leader during our Civil War; that illness that Winston Churchill called his “black dog” and helped win World War II.

The graying hair that I put a rinse on now and again to make me look less “frumpy?” [An aside here – why is it that gray hair in a woman is often considered “frumpy” while gray hair in a man is often considered “distinguished?”] I think the most recent contributor was my husband being sick with his own GOK Disease, in the hospital for a week and unable to work for almost a month (see: “My Pilgrimage to ???“). That, along with the fact that there is yet to be a diagnosis… Oh, and let’s not forget my own hospital visit last fall and the mini-stroke that brought about my stepping aside from my job.

The occasional swollen ankles? I don’t use salt, I drink plenty of fluids and I’m not going into congestive heart failure. I think my legs are just tired of carrying me around for so long. Plus, they outran wildlife on the Serengeti Plain – that’s no small feat!

The addition of a telltale apple shape on top of the always present pear shape? This one, I must say, is from the release of gallons of Cortisol caused by stress, which is directly related to belly fat distribution in women. Why it hasn’t disappeared since I took time off from working is a mystery to me. But, I just ordered an abs wheel and exercise mat on-line, so I’m going to get back to just a pear shape in the next few months. And I must say – I never thought I’d be glad to return to “just” a pear shape…

The road map of lines that cover my face? Let’s see – almost 12 years of higher education after high school, marriage, divorce, setting up my own practice, building a house and an office, moving, changing careers, death of both parents, multiple surgeries, responsibility-laden jobs, death of 3 cats in the past 14 months (see: “In Memory of Peanut“), my husband’s hospitalization, being a mother and wife… I’m stopping before I get too depressed; those transitions can do a person in! (see: “The In-Between Time“)

Last, but not least, what’s with the loose pouch of skin fat under my chin? The one that my Mom thought for sure was a tumor growing when she first noticed hers. The one that makes me look like I’m related to a turkey. This one is another mystery, but I know it must be related to the gravitational pull that influences ocean tides and sunspots.

But this seasoned body – so flawed, scarred, exhausted, sagging – is also the body that is still standing. It’s weathered a lot of storms, and by doing so, forged my own unique path that has gifted me with the privilege of being present with others while they examine their own scars – the kind that we don’t actually see.

And perhaps most sacred of all, 28 years ago, this maturing body delivered the miracle of my son, who I count as my greatest blessing.

So, I’ll ask again: when did I start to look like my mother?

I’m thinking that with everything she went through in her life (see: “Remembrance“), that’s not a bad way to look. Even in the last month of her life, battling breast cancer at 59 in the hospital, head shaved, feverish, swollen – she was beautiful.

She never complained, she knew the life stories of the nurses who brought her special foods and drinks to tempt her appetite, and she faced her cancer with courage for as long as she was physically able.

Like I said, Mom was beautiful. The essence of who she was – her spirit – the part of her that could not be diminished regardless of what was destroying her body – shone forth.

Now that I think of it, I’m honored to look like my mother.





It is gradual, insidious, cunning.

I slip, slip, slip down into the darkness,
its waves covering me, masking me,
sucking me into its void.

A black hole of nothingness,
where cries of despair no longer echo
but end sharply, cuttingly, abruptly.

An unearthly stillness,
a catching of breath,
then a slow release that’s not a release,
but only more weight,
dragging me down, down, down into obscurity.

There is no light, no sound, no life, no hope.

A stillness, a waiting — not expectant,
but a relenting to the darkness,
its presence a living, breathing, creeping thing.

My soul is wounded, easy prey for the shadows
that wait patiently in the quiet.
All energy, breath, life is sucked dry
with nothing left to give, no desire to give,
no future.

Why struggle?

There is no life, no sound, no light.
There is no future, no hope, no dream.
It takes more than I have to dream.

The sobbing is more than crying —
it is an emptying, a stealing, a taking
with nothing left in its wake.

Cold, dark, damp.
Slimy, keening vacuum.
It waits.

It has all of eternity to feast on this soul.
It licks its lips in anticipation of the
tenderness to be destroyed.

The black hole is more alive than I am,
its eyes watching me, searing me
with a vacant blindness that still sees.
Sees too much.

A rustling – furtive –
a licking, smacking anxiousness
in the murky gloom.

It waits for me, as it has done before.

I have no strength to fight it.
My thoughts are muddied.
The weight of the darkness suffocates,
pushing the air out of my lungs.

My bones – no bones – no shape –
no light – no sound.

There is only this barren wasteland
and I no longer care.

About anything.

I’m exhausted.  I just want to rest.
To catapult into oblivion,
among the stars, weightless,
no control or direction.

I am abandoned.

Is this surrender?
To what end – nothing?  A future?

Must so much of me die in order to live?

And then – on a distant horizon –
the tiniest pinprick of light.
It blazes into my soul
and I breathe…

I am safe.

I can dream.


Monday Meeting — Pizza for Hazlenut

Huffington Post
July 15, 2013
Photos Courtesy of Lauren Hammersley & Children’s Hospital Los Angeles

Hazel Hammersley, 2 yo

Hazel Hammersley, 2 yo

On April 21, 2013, Hazel was diagnosed with a high-risk, stage 3 neuroblastoma tumor in her abdomen. Hazel, affectionately known as “Hazelnut,” will require a year-and-a-half hospital treatment.

Hazel II

Hazel and her mom, Lauren, stay at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles during her treatments. “We are taken care of here, but you know, after a while, you get a little stir-crazy,” Lauren told HuffPost. To pass the time, they take walks, color, play with Play-Doh, dress up…

Hazel III

On the Fourth of July, Hazel was admitted to the hospital with a fever. Lauren’s mom, Hazel’s grandma, was visiting and told the toddler about a funny sign someone put in the window of her hospital room when she was a girl. Hazel wanted a sign too. And so, Mom and Grandma made her one.

Hazel V

The sign was up on the window for several days, Lauren says. Then, on Saturday, everything changed…

A man drove by the hospital, and this is what he saw. He posted a photo on Reddit with the caption: “Photo taken outside Children’s Hospital in Los Angeles. Smart kid.”

Hazel VI

“Send Pizza – Room 4112”

One Reddit user took up the cause, saying “No need to fear! Pizza Delivery will soon be here!”

More Reddit users sent pizzas — over 20 pies arrived.

Hazel VII

Due to the number of deliveries, the hospital had to request that people stop sending pizza.

Hazel VIII

But Lauren and the entire Hammersley family hope that Hazel’s story helps spread awareness of childhood cancer. “We can use this opportunity to let people know that not enough research goes into how to treat our kids,” she says.

Hazel has responded well to treatment, so far. “She is going to get through this journey. She is going to be strong and healthy at the end of it,” Lauren says. “We don’t take time for granted. We have four kids, 6 and under. [With little kids who] require attention, you forget to savor the little things. We’ve learned to take every moment and savor it and not wait to say things.”

Hammersley Family

Hammersley Family

You can visit the Hammersley family’s blog at


Dear Hazlenut:
You are a beautiful little girl, and I hope you enjoyed your pizza party.
You might only be 2 years old, but your smile brought a lot of
strangers together. You gave them smiles back.
Be well, little child, be well.
May your long life be filled with
rainbows and good health, pizza and smiles.
And love…always love.
~ Theresa


Thursday Re-View — Theresa Equals Crying???

[Note: I posted this on a week-end and at an off time, resulting in fewer than normal people reading it. Since I’d like as much feedback as possible, I am posting it this week under Thursday Re-View. For those who have already commented, my deepest thanks. I am hopeful to hear from more of you on something for which I seek an answer.]



It’s said that everyone has a gift to share with the world.

My husband and son would offer that mine is the ability to make someone cry within minutes of meeting me.

Whether or not that’s a “gift” is yet to be determined; none-the-less, I seem to have a knack for it.

The waitress at the local restaurant, the girl at the supermarket register, the 6’4″ gang member with tattoos all over his body (including his face), the stalwart doctor in the ER, the friendly neighborhood priest…the list goes on. And on.

No one seems to be exempt. And I haven’t even mentioned my clients, patients, students, etc. They’re included in that list, too.

My husband seems to think it’s some uncanny ability of mine to cut through the small stuff and get right to the meat of the matter. Others have told me that when I look at them, they feel like I know something about them that even they don’t know about themselves.

I like to think that people trust me, see me as non-threatening and recognize that the darkest parts of their souls are safe with me. I will sit with them in the darkness, weep with them in my heart, then help them to dry their tears to face another tomorrow. I will be their light until their own spark is blazing brightly once again.

And to help them to see – men and women, young and old alike – that crying is healthy. Often necessary. Can serve as a catharsis. Shows strength rather than weakness. Is liberating.

So what has happened with my blogging adventure?

The same thing.

That’s right – crying.

If you take the time to read the comments that some of my followers and/or readers make, you’ll see that the material on Soul Gatherings (start reading the category “Thursday Re-View” from August 2013 to the present for some examples) is not for the faint of heart. Often times, people say how much they cried while reading a post. How they can barely see to type for the tears. Or how they get out a box of tissues before getting started. Or how they might delay reading a post until they are ‘ready’ for it.

And this without people ever meeting me in person, face-to-face, where I might look at them like I know something they don’t.

So my question to everyone out there is this:

What is it about my posts that might make you tear up? Get a lump in your throat? Cry? Sob uncontrollably?

Really – I’d like to know. Any of your comments would be appreciated. I, for one, am grateful that you feel something that strongly when reading some of my posts, and I can honestly say that I never once sat down and intentionally tried to get someone to cry. Never.

So help me out here, please. Explanations will be welcomed. Maybe that will placate my husband and son, since now I seem to have a small audience who reacts in the same way as those who meet me in person.

But please don’t take too long. I’m working on my next post and I don’t want to depress anyone.

And guess what – you just made it to the end of one of my posts without crying.

So there! It is possible…


Dear Theresa…


Dear Theresa – 7th grade:

Hang in there, young lady. It’s not about you; it’s about him.

No it’s not fair, but you’ll learn as you get older that life isn’t fair, but you make the best of it. Who knows why your teacher is doing what he’s doing. It makes absolutely no sense to take away points from your test and paper grades and give them to the other students.

“They need the points more than you do.”

Absurd. You should be recognized for all of the hard work you put into studying. Each afternoon, you come home from school and study until dinner. Then you dry the dishes (someday, you’ll have something called a dishwasher that does all that for you), help your Mom and Dad downstairs in their factory, then study some more until bed time.

And your teacher has the audacity to take away points from your hard-earned As and 100s. No wonder you’re coughing and having trouble sleeping. You can’t figure out why he would do something so unfair. There will come a time when you’re a lot older that his behavior will have a name – bullying – and it will be in the newspapers weekly, in an effort to stop its terrible consequences. It plays with a person’s head, and that’s not right.

But for now, hang in there, young lady.

You’ll learn what good teachers are during all your years of education. (In fact, do you know that you will actually go through almost 12 years of schooling after you graduate from high school? I know, I know – hard to believe, but you’ll always need to be learning something new, or you’ll get bored…) And you’ll realize that not all men are threatened by women of a certain intelligence.  In fact, someday you’ll not only marry a man who is challenged by them, you’ll raise a son who respects them as well. 

But back to your teachers…

Like Mr. Altemose in 10th grade, who’ll teach you to always look at both sides of a story, and to search for the reasons why people act the way they do.

And Mr. DeHaven in your Senior year, who will tell you that it won’t be easy to get all As once you’re in college, but to always do your best, and that will be good enough.

Or Dr. Markowicz, your English professor in undergrad. He’ll be the toughest prof in the department, and you’ll respect him so much that you’ll welcome all his criticisms in order to become a better writer. You’ll like him so much, that after a year of English Composition, you’ll take him for Latin for two more semesters. The other students will tell you that you’re crazy, but you’ll listen to your Self, and learn more from him than anyone else in college. Pretty strange, since you’ll be a Biology major/Chem minor. He’ll even come to your Open House when you start your optometry practice (what – you didn’t know that you’ll be a Doctor someday???), in order to wish you well.

And Dr. Deglin, the retinal specialist? You’ll follow him like a puppy in order to soak up his knowledge, and he’ll never put you down or disrespect you. In fact, he’ll be glad for someone so eager to learn, and he’ll show you enough retinal diseases that you’ll know them like the back of your hand.

There’s Dr. Ciarrocchi, too, in grad school. You’ll beg him to allow you into a Ph.D. class while you’re in the Master’s Program. When he finally relents, its Cognitive Behavioral Therapy slant will become the foundation of your clinical practice as a psychotherapist. Thoughts matter. They become actions that display your character.

Which brings us back to your (nameless) 7th grade teacher.

Don’t worry about him. He’s a small man, doing small things to you. For whatever reason, and there are no doubt many, all having to do with his insecurities, he has chosen you to pick on. He is abusing his position of authority, and debasing the sacred vocation of teaching. Although it doesn’t feel like it now, he will not be able to stop you from succeeding. You will storm through whatever he tries to do to you and will rise above his actions with your own perseverance.

And you’ll be the better for it.

When there’s an obstacle in your way, go through it or around it or over it or under it. Don’t let it stop you from your dreams.

You are a child of the universe.
No less than the trees and the stars,
you have a right to be here.
And whether or not it is clear to you,
no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.

With my blessings and love,

Theresa, Middle-aged


Monday Meeting — A Most Honorable Funeral

Harold Jellicoe “Coe” Percival was a World War II veteran who led a relatively quiet life after the war. He never married, and by the time he passed away in a nursing home at the age of 99, he was without any known family or friends.

His obituary requested that local military personnel attend his funeral, a request that then circulated on Twitter. Soon enough, the local newspaper wrote up a story that included Afghanistan veteran Sgt. Rick Clement’s plea for military personnel to attend the Royal Air Force Bomber Command veteran’s funeral service.

On the day of his service – Armistice Day – more than 300 service personnel and civilians gathered in the rain at Lytham Park Crematorium to pay their last respects to a fallen WW II airman.

Rest in Peace, Coe. We remember the difference that you made in our world. You mattered.


Harold "Coe" Percival

Harold “Coe” Percival


Today’s Quote

lanterns I

“We Were Made For These Times”

…To display the lantern of soul in shadowy times…
to be fierce and to show mercy toward others;
both are acts of immense bravery and greatest necessity…
Struggling souls catch light from other souls
who are fully lit and willing to show it…

~ Clarissa Pinkola Estes ~