Thursday Re-View — Of Ladybugs and Dragonflies…and Love

There are signs.

Signs of our departed loved ones telling us all will be well and that there is life after death, if we only have the faith and willingness to believe.

For Mom, it’s a ladybug. ladybug

When she died 25 years ago from breast cancer at the age of 59, (see “Remembrance”), Mom left behind a husband, 2 daughters and 3 grandsons. Speaking for myself, her “baby,” I was in total shock, having spent the entire month of February driving to the hospital after work and watching her suffer. After her death, I was totally drained physically, emotionally and spiritually.

One of the first things we did as a family without Mom was to drive 8 hours to my best friend’s wedding in North Carolina, the wedding that Mom promised to bake her delicious Italian cookies for (what is a wedding without countless trays laden with homemade cookies made from recipes handed down through the generations?). Needless to say, my family was happy for my friend who called my Mom and Dad her “adopted parents,” but the absence of Mom was a raw ache, an emptiness, a longing that went unfulfilled.

During a rest stop, Dad, my sister and I stood stretching our legs before getting back into the car for the long ride home. As we spoke about how much we missed Mom, a ladybug landed on Dad’s shoulder.

Mom had always loved ladybugs; if one was inside the house, she would bring it outside and place it gently on a flower. If one landed on her, she would simply let it stay put until it flew away. Mom knew that ladybugs were dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary and had been called the “Beetle of Our Lady,” its name linking itself to spiritual ideals and mothers. To her, that sent a powerful message of devotion and love.

A ladybug on Dad’s shoulder…while we were talking about Mom…at our first outing as a family without her. Each of us looked at the ladybug, looked at each other, and without saying a word, started to cry. Somehow Mom found a way to let us know that she was with us.

Ever since then, in the past 25 years, ladybugs have visited my Dad, sister and me when we most needed the comfort. Dad would call us up on Mom’s birthday and mention that a ladybug was on his morning newspaper, or in the bathroom during the Christmas holidays – Mom’s favorite time of year – when he most missed her, or on the passenger seat of his car when he had a doctor’s appointment. If my sister was going through a difficult time, even though it might be the dead of winter, she would call me up and say, “Guess what I’m looking at right now, on my windowsill?” and I would answer, without missing a beat, “A ladybug.” Mom came through again and again.

After Dad died and I was particularly sad, having to make some big decisions without having either parent to ask for advice, I found myself driving to work and saying out loud, “I really need a lady bug sighting.” I thought of my ladybug collection at home that reminded me of Mom – pins, coffee mugs, journals, bracelets, note cards – but they just weren’t enough. I really, really needed her. As I slowed for one of the three stop lights in my town that foggy morning, I noticed something strange about the car in front of me. I blinked, then got a better look as I came to a top. It was a Volkswagen Beetle automobile. I’d gotten my driver’s license in one when I was 17 years old. But that wasn’t why I smiled. The Volkswagen Beetle was a red one with huge black spots painted on it. A car painted to look like a ladybug idling at the stop light. The ladybug sighting that I just asked for out loud – big enough just in case Theresa missed it.

I looked down and shook my head. Why was I not surprised??? [Note: I never saw that car again.]

For Dad, it’s a dragonfly.

flora goddess of flowers and spring

flora goddess of flowers and spring

Following Dad’s funeral Mass last year, we all proceeded to the mausoleum where Mom was buried. As my sister and I, our immediate family, and the rest of those who had come to pay final respects to Dad entered the marble building, for some reason, my sister turned around and looked at the wall of windows that covered its front. Just then, a beautiful dragonfly flew in and landed on the framework of the door. Quite large, it was a beautiful, iridescent blue (Dad’s favorite color, as well as the color of his eyes). It simply rested there, motionless. A cousin of mine turned to my sister and asked in a voice tinged with wonder, “Did you see that?” as they looked at the visitor. My sister nodded, unable to speak. When she told me about this later, I had no doubt that we had just received our first message from Dad.

In choosing the dragonfly for his sign, Dad chose a symbol of light, one of a select few creatures that are supposed to carry a deceased person’s energy to their loved ones, often seen as a harbinger of change.

This week, the final chapter in the managing of Dad’s estate took place when we had the closing for the sale of his house. My sister and I hoped that we would find a young family to bring the house alive, to transform it once again into a place of brightness and love and happiness. We got our wish when we met the couple who bought it, along with their young daughter. The conference room was filled with people – attorneys, realtors, secretaries, the buyers (the family) and the sellers (my sister and me). It was bittersweet – a relief, after a year, to have this last task completed, yet also very sad, to have this last task completed (see “Who Will Remember?”).

As we sat across the table from the family, my sister addressed the harried and exhausted looking mother, who had just finished telling us that they closed on the sale of their own house late the night before. “Your sweater – are those dragonflies on your sweater?” The woman stretched the front of the garment out so that we could see its print. Multiple dragonflies fluttered across it in bluish-purple beauty.


My sister and I both started to cry. As we brokenly explained what/who the dragonflies represented, the woman’s eyes filled with tears. “Well, I guess we know this was meant to be,” she softly commented, pulling her sweater more closely around her, almost like a hug.

She was correct. Dad was here to say that his house was being passed on to the right people, and that he was with us always. I would like to say a ladybug landed on the desk at the same time, but that didn’t happen. The dragonfly was enough.

Thank you, Mom and Dad, for sending your love. Continuing bonds can never be broken.

There are signs. Our loved ones never leave us. We must simply open our eyes and our hearts will be filled.


Monday Meeting — An Act of Ultimate Respect and Humility

This is the poignant moment when a man rescued from the hell he endured at the hands of the Nazis met his saviour almost 70 years later.


Joshua Kaufman first saluted his rescuer Daniel Gillespie. Then he kissed his hand and finally, he fell to his feet, exclaiming: ‘I have wanted to do this for 70 years. I love you, I love you so much…’.

Kaufman, now 87, was a ‘walking corpse’ on April 29 1945 when U.S. Army soldier Gillespie, 89, marched in with his comrades to liberate the charnel house that was the Dachau concentration camp near Munich.

Gillespie, a machine gunner with the 42nd ‘Rainbow Division,’ moved to block 11 of the infamous complex which was the first camp built by the Nazis to house its enemies in 1933.

By the time it was liberated more than 35,000 people had been murdered there – in executions, in cruel medical experiments, starved, worked and beaten to death.

The first person he saw was Hungarian Jew Kaufman. He was hiding in the latrines with other prisoners, uncertain if the soldiers who arrived were liberators or a Nazi death squad sent to liquidate the camp.

‘We were confined to barracks by the guards. This meant most of us were marked for death,’ Mr. Kaufman said.

‘Then I saw the white flag flying from the watchtower and I realized then that the torture was at an end.

When the Americans smashed in the door, my heart did somersaults.‘

Gillespie helped the emaciated prisoner into the daylight and back into the land of the living. Both parted with tears in their eyes – both believed they would never see one another again.

Kaufman, who lost most of his family in the Holocaust, made it to Israel where he became a soldier who fought in the Six Day War and the Yom Kippur War.

He later emigrated to America where he married, fathered three daughters and became a self employed plumber.

Gillespie married, fathered eight children and built a career for himself as a successful salesman.


Amazingly, neither knew that they lived within an hour’s drive of each other until a German documentary crew arranged their moving reunion on the sand at Hungtington Beach, California.

Accompanied by his youngest daughter Alexandra, 34, to the meeting, Joshua said: ‘I came out of hell into the light. For that, and to him, I am eternally grateful.’

nazi I

Gillespie had fought with his comrades through Europe to reach the gates of the Dachau camp.

He said, ‘It was the most profound shock of my life. Its liberation changed my life forever.”

‘We could not understand it. I grew up in California where we had everything in abundance.

‘We didn’t get how people could let other people starve. They murdered them or just let them die.

Again and again the questions moved through my head. And at the same time I was just incredibly angry.’

When they were reunited, Gillespie asked Kaufman: ‘How did you survive? What kept you alive?’

An emotional and overwhelmed Kaufman replied: ‘Dying would have been easier. In Dachau we had to tote around 50 kilo cement sacks. The whole day long.

‘Whoever broke down was immediately shot. It turned me into an animal. And animals want to survive. I wanted to live.’

He described how, to this day, he still sleeps on a thin mattress close to a window so he can gaze out at green grass every day.

The meeting, and their stories, will be told in a special for the History Channel Deutschland to be screened on May 31.

Kaufman had the last word on the beach when he said: ‘I have everything I wanted in life through him. That is the reason for my thankfulness.’

nazi II

Both men are old, both realize they will probably never see one another again.

But both said they were humbled by their meeting so many years after Nazism was crushed.

Source: Kindness Blog

Thursday Re-View — The Greatest Therapist Award


The handwriting is looping, the capitalization non-existent, the ragged piece of paper torn on one edge, but with a faint flower at the top. It looks like the effort put into the note is considerable, the pressure of the words seen through the paper from the other side.

It is childlike. It is simple. It is a priceless treasure given to me upon my departure from Community Mental Health that I keep under glass on my desk.

No, it wasn’t written by a child. It was written by a 31-year old woman – a patient for 2 years. A woman-child. A woman whose emotional maturity was paralyzed in early adolescence, when she had several children as a result of sexual abuse by her father…abuse that her mother never stopped. A woman who never finished junior high and who ran away to get away from the monster at home, only to meet more of them on the streets and under the bridge where she slept. Where she did what she could to eat and to take care of her children until Child Protective Services removed them and placed them in Foster Care.

No protection for her, but at least there was for her children. And for the children with different fathers from severed relationships who came after that.

Rape. Childbirth. Physical abuse. Homelessness. Death of one of her children and institutionalization of another. Arrests and incarceration. Drugs and alcohol. Prostitution. Multiple suicide attempts and hospitalizations. Emotional abuse.

Self-esteem: zero. Worthlessness: 100%. In her mind, that is. And in the mind of the bruiser of a man whose son she raised as her own, who beat her up regularly, even though she took any and all that he threw at her.

But she never left. Why?

Where could she go?

She had no job – who would hire her? She had no high school diploma, with her jail time checked honestly on every application. Applications where the handwriting would look like it looked in the note above.

But she loved the squirrels outside her window, and had names for each one of them, and when her boyfriend killed one with a BB gun when he was drunk, she carefully dug a hole and buried it while he slept off the rage and the drink.

Until the next time.

Non-compliance with therapy appointments and medications until she realized that I saw past her bravado and resistance to the little girl underneath.

She was hard to like, but her survival instinct was easy to admire.

For several months, she never missed an appointment. I looked over her shoulder while she filled out applications with an agency that was willing to hire people with an arrest record. We picked out an outfit together for her interview, her boyfriend there to have the final approval on what she wore.

She didn’t get the job.

But she finally got a driver’s license so if another opportunity presented itself, she would be ready. She started to study for her GRE but didn’t have the money to sit for the exams. A fairy godmother took care of the fee at the local office that registered people for the review classes that she got thrown out of for being disruptive.

She always had difficulty with anger management, but she was also sleep deprived, since everyone around her did whatever they could to prevent her from studying. She passed all but one part of the exam for her GRE anyway, and got a tutor for the higher math.

Her father got a cancer diagnosis, and she struggled mightily with whether to go see him to tell him that she still loved him as a daughter, or to go see him to kill him for the despicable horrors that he visited upon her as a little girl. Normal feelings for what she had been through, and I daresay far above anything her father would have felt.

Then, seemingly out of nowhere, for me, a chance at another job, this one in higher education. One with a secretary to answer the phone and a computer to make appointments, with time off and supplemental help. Nothing like the limited resources of Community Mental Health that wore people out.

For someone who was exhausted with compassion fatigue, it was a relatively easy choice.

But it was so terribly hard to leave the patients in my case load. And she was one of them. Right when she seemed to be making some headway, another person who she had slowly, hesitantly learned to trust was abandoning her.

Who to save? It had to be me. Because I cannot “save” anyone but myself, and I needed to give some of the compassion that I so easily poured into others, to myself.

So everyone was transitioned to new psychotherapists whom I thought would be a ‘good fit,’ and I had enough advance notice to properly ‘terminate’ my clients.

I wish I could tell you that she passed the final portion of her GRE, left what would hopefully be her last abusive relationship and found a full-time job.

But I can’t.

I don’t know what happened to her…not even if she kept her appointments with the new therapist. Not every story has a happy ending, or at least an ending that we are a part of or even privy to.

But I do have the tiny stuffed green frog she gave me on the last day, one she got from a McDonald’s Happy Meal. And I have the “Greatest Therapist Award” next to me on my desk.

Not to remind me of my award, but to remind me of the special woman-child I was so privileged to work with for 2 years.

To remind me of what a survivor looked like…a woman so tough that she was still standing, a woman so gentle that she named each of the squirrels in her back yard.

Thank you for gifting me with a glimpse into your life and sharing things that no one else knew. For keeping a small shred of hope alive even when the voices all around you ridiculed and berated.

I wish you happiness and warmth and smiles; sunshine and rainbows and sweetness.

But most of all, I wish you love.

Pure love. Of yourself and from someone good and decent and kind.

You deserve nothing less.

The privilege was mine, lovely lady. Be well.

You are in my thoughts and in my heart…go out and shine!



Monday Meeting — Firefighters Help Free Two Bear Cubs

A cabin owner in Milltown, Wis. was alerted to two cubs in distress last weekend when she heard some desperate cries in a wooded area nearby. When she arrived to the source of the sound, she noticed a little snout poking out from a hole in a tree trunk. Not knowing what kind of creature it was, or if it was truly stuck, she decided to come back and check the next day — and the following morning the snout was still there.

She called authorities out to help and two wardens from the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources were dispatched to the tree where they discovered that it contained a pair of bear cubs who appear to have crawled into the hole, but were unable to crawl out.

“In 15 years of being a warden I haven’t seen a bears caught in a tree before. I’ve seen lots of bears just none that were trapped like that,” says warden Jesse Ashton to news station KARE 11.

bear cubs

Unequipped to get the cubs out themselves, the wardens asked for the local fire department’s help. Using a chainsaw, firefighters carefully cut two wider openings into the hollow tree’s base, while one of the little bears watched on from his hole.

“We cut a hole in the tree and then we all backed off and waited,” warden Phil Dorn said. “The cubs crawled out and ran back into the woods.”

A wildlife specialist who was on hand determined that aside from being dehydrated, the bears were in good condition. She offered them some watermelon to eat before letting them scamper back off into the woods. A representative from the Department of Natural Resources told The Dodo that the bears’ mother was likely still somewhere nearby.

Stephen Messenger, The Dodo

Today’s Quote

volcano II

Our Father the Sky, hear us and make us bold.
O Our Mother the Earth, hear us and give us support.
O Spirit of the East, send us your wisdom
O Spirit of the South, may we walk your path of life.
O Spirit of the West, may we always be ready for the long journey.
O Spirit of the North, purify us with your cleansing winds.

~ Sioux Prayer ~

Thursday Re-View — Mouse Therapy Expert

I was born to be a psychotherapist. No, that’s not being egotistical or arrogant; at a “certain age,” you come to know your strengths as well as your limitations. You have to – there’s probably not much time left to live each day with intention.

Like I said – I was born to be a psychotherapst. But little did I know that I would gain even more credentials while working in Community Mental Health. Thanks to my colleague Katherine and my patient Ben, I was awarded the M.T.E., or Mouse Therapy Expert, specializing in a Rodent Recovery Program. Drop-ins welcome. Group rates available. Perhaps I’d best explain.

Working in Community Mental Health is not for the faint of heart. Resources are almost non-existent, schedules are jammed and the clients/patients are desperately in need of good mental health services. For some reason, my supervisor determined that as a counselor, I worked well with “chronic” patients: those who were in and out of the system, with long mental illness histories and a poor prognosis. It was common for the patients and therapists to give up, with little progress made through no one’s fault.

Ben was fairly typical of his diagnosis and personality: middle-aged, never married, still living with his mother, poor social skills, no friendships, unemployable, but a genuinely nice man. Somewhat rotund, Ben would shuffle into my office, his round face anxious but with a bit of a smile, his regular outfit of jeans and a plaid shirt freshly washed and ironed (by his mother). He always sat at the edge of his seat for the entire session, as if he would bolt out of the door at any moment. As usual, he would start his first sentence with, “Theresa…” and launch in to his latest anxieties about his family, his finances, his nightmares and his smoking habit.

In Ben’s case, therapy was often nothing more than reassurance for his many worries, making certain that he was taking his medications correctly, and setting his mind at ease that he would never be homeless in his present situation; that there was enough funding available, as well as local resources, to help him survive.

My office was one of many in the Adult Outpatient section on the first floor of a 3-story brick building that used to be a hospital (verified by the morgue refrigerator corpse drawers in the basement now used for plain old storage), but now used to provide mental health services to the county. It was an old building with drafts everywhere, marble floors and dropped ceilings. I was lucky enough to have 2 windows, which either brought the succulent aroma of a delicious carbohydrate lunch from next door’s KFC or the seemingly twice-a-day whirr of the Medivac helicopter as it landed in the landing zone of the general hospital next door. For visualization purposes, when in my office, the patient sits with his or her back to the windows while I face them, seated at my desk, my back to the door. (Note: always keep yourself closer to the door.)

It was just another day as I jotted a few things in his record, Ben and I discussing his goals for next week. I heard a bit of a thump, but extraneous noise was common in the building – shredders, telephones, voices, drawers slamming, people walking down the hall, etc. – so I didn’t think anything of it. As I listened to Ben, my eyes drifted to the window behind him, and there on the ledge was the cutest, tiniest mouse that I had ever seen. He sat there on his hind legs, calmly looking at me. Then, (was that a smirk on that adorable face?) he leaped to a near-by electric cord and started to make his way down towards the floor. Which would put him by the back leg of Ben’s chair. Which was far too close to Ben’s feet. All this time, I’ve got a poker face, but my mind is racing a mile a minute. Ben – a bit of a paranoid schizophrenic, with auditory hallucinations and fears of just about anything – far too close to a mouse.

A brief aside – I am not really afraid of mice, but I prefer rats. Ever since I worked with rats as a biology major in undergrad, I found them to be friendlier and not as quick to nip at your fingers. (Lab rats, at least. I can’t account for sewer rats the size of dogs.) I genuinely was concerned about not setting Ben off emotionally with a cute little mouse crawling up his leg.

Animal Crossing Wiki

Animal Crossing Wiki

What’s pounded into our head from Day 1 at my place of employment? If there’s a problem, consult with your supervisor. So I punched in my supervisor’s extension. Thankfully, he answered. “Mike, I have a problem.. Could you please come to my office?”

“What’s the problem, Theresa?”

Darn it. He’s going to make me say it in front of Ben. I put Mike on hold while I break the news to Ben. “Now I want you to stay calm, Ben, but I have to tell you something. It’ll be okay.” His eyes are like saucers. “There is a tiny little mouse – he’s so cute – (I hope that will soften the blow) on the windowsill (a little white lie, also to soften the blow) behind you.”

Ben turned around, saw the mouse dangling on the cord, and in one swift movement, vaulted behind me in my chair. He was trembling. I took my supervisor off hold. “Mike, there’s a mouse in my office. He must have dropped from the ceiling tiles. Can you come down here?”

No answer – just disjointed breathing. Then I hear a faint voice. “A mouse, like M-I-C-K-E-Y – that kind of mouse?”

Disney at a time like this. “Yes.” I feel Ben restless behind me.

Mike squeaks at the other end of the phone. “Theresa, I’m scared of mice.”

Well, you’re not supposed to hang up on people, especially your supervisor, but I was running out of time here. I dialed my colleague in the next office. She could handle it; she was an independent, capable, take charge kind of woman. “Katherine – I need you to come over here.”

“I can’t. I’m with a client.”

“Katherine – I need you over here now.”

In a few seconds (it must have been something about my voice…), my door opens and Ben races out while Katherine walks in. I point to the mouse, who’s still having fun on the electric cord. “It’s a mouse.”

Katherine – my heroine – takes one look at Matt (that’s what I named the mouse) – and puts both hands up while she backs out of my office. “I don’t do mice.” So much for colleagues coming to the rescue. At that point, Matt scurries back up onto the window sill. I hear someone behind me, and there’s a very confident-looking man (not my supervisor) walking up to the mouse. Katherine explains from the doorway, “My client is a hunter; he said he’ll take care of it.” Without any hesitation, the man grabs the mouse. With Matt cupped in his hand, Katherine’s client walks down the hall to release him into the wild (the bushes outside our building, which probably means the mouse will be back inside in 30 seconds flat).

I see Ben cowering against the wall, inching his way toward the waiting room. “I’m going to leave now, Theresa. Is that okay?” I assured him it was, so he tore out of the building and raced down the steps. (I was hoping the mouse wouldn’t leap out of the bushes; we’d have to carry Ben through the parking lot to the hospital.). We calmly asked all of those waiting to disperse from the hallway and told them everything was okay.

All in a day’s work. I made a mental note to call Ben the next day in order to check on him, since I knew he had trouble sleeping. I hoped this mouse incident wouldn’t cause a nightmare. The next morning, promptly at 8:30 am, Ben called me before I could call him.

“Ben, how are you after yesterday’s excitement?”

“Theresa, I’m sorry I left, but I don’t like mice. I just don’t like mice. They scare me.”

“That’s no problem, Ben. It seems a lot of people don’t like mice.” Once I knew he was fine, we made another appointment for next week.

“Theresa, will there be another mouse there?”

I explained that I didn’t know, but I was sure maintenance and housekeeping would be on the look out from now on.

I could hear Ben’s sigh of relief. “Okay. Thanks, Theresa.” He hesitated and I could hear the wheels turning. He spoke again, ever the gentleman. “It’s a good thing there weren’t any ladies there; they would have been scared…”

I kept the shock from my voice and answered with Ben’s same sincerity. “You’re right, Ben – it’s a good thing there were no ladies there.” We said good-bye and I hung up, shaking my head in amazement.

At least I was doing something right – Ben obviously viewed me as his therapist, and not as a female. But my Mom, who would accept nothing less from her daughters than for them to be “ladies” – would be appalled and disappointed about my new status.

After all, there were no ladies present.

Thanks, Ben. I’ll never forget you. I wish you healing and peace of mind and people who love you. And no more mice…

You are a blessing.