Tough times

Getting Through Tough Times

March 17, 2023

Since I last posted on Catching Happiness, life has been so challenging it hasn’t seemed real. First, Carol’s condition took an abrupt downturn, and after a week of trying to stabilize her, and then a few days of round-the-clock care, she passed away Feb. 17. Still reeling from this, the next day I was on a plane to California to see my mom, who had been in a rehab facility with fractures in the vertebra in her back. By the time I got there, her condition had taken a turn for the worse and she’d been readmitted to the hospital. When I stopped at my aunt’s house to pick up the keys to my mom’s house, I learned from a note from my cousin that my aunt was in the hospital with fractures in her back as well (they are twins, but this is carrying the twin thing too far)! 

And that was just the beginning.

I stayed in California for two weeks, partly to figure out what was going on with my mom and to help get her the care she needed, and partly because I caught COVID-19! That’s right, at a time when I needed to be with my 84-year-old mom in the hospital, I was sick and staying at her house by myself.

Practically everything that could go wrong, went wrong. While I was still sick, we had a big snowstorm (see photo above) and I needed to sign some documents to admit my mom into Hospice care. Since I was sick and I’ve never driven in snow, we needed to find a way to get the documents to me and back to Hospice without my leaving the house. My mom doesn’t have internet service, so I had been using my phone as a hotspot. On the day I needed to sign the documents, it didn’t work! I wound up using Starbucks’ internet from the parking lot since I was still supposed to be in isolation. Coming on top of the last intense weeks of Carol’s life, I felt pushed to the very edges of my ability to cope with all I had to deal with in California.

When the tough times seem to go on forever

For nearly a year, we’ve been living with uncertainty and curtailing of “normal” life. We felt unable to make certain plans and do certain activities while caring for Carol. Our world shrank. It’s been a year of digging deeper, finding strength we didn’t know we had, making mistakes and moving on from them, and trying to find happiness in an unhappy situation. I’ve been through difficult experiences before, but none that lasted so long and affected so many areas of my life.

I know I’m not the only one who is or has been going through tough times, of course. But since these experiences are fresh in my mind, I thought I’d share five tips that have helped me the most:

1. Take it one moment and one step at a time. Deal with the situation immediately in front of you. Do not think about what could happen. The “ifs” are what keep me up at night. How will I handle it if… What should we do if… I don’t know how I’ll cope if…

Just stop. None of those things has happened, or is happening at this moment. It’s been my experience that when something traumatic happens, you don’t have time to worry about what to do—you just have to do something.

If you have a legitimate huge mess to deal with, break that down into the smallest doable actions. Go slowly if you can. Let yourself fully take in the situation and solutions may present themselves.

Our Hospice people are big on the “one day at a time” concept. Particularly the aspect of simply enjoying what we can enjoy today, and not worrying too much about what tomorrow will bring.

2. Make a list of battery-recharging activities. Make sure you do at least one of these every day. Even in the toughest of times, a tiny pleasure helps you to remember that things will not always be so hard. For me, these things included climbing in bed to read for at least an hour before going to sleep, taking a hot bubble bath, stepping outside to breath some fresh air and look at the sky. These things made me feel calmer and more relaxed and they cost virtually nothing.

When possible, plan a small treat sometime in the near future so you have something to look forward to. Anticipation boosts happiness.

3. Ask for and accept help. Maybe you don’t “need” help right now? Accept it anyway. One of my friends offered to make dinner for us just after Carol’s initial illness. At that time, making dinner wasn’t really a problem for me so I was about to refuse, thinking there would likely come a time in the future that I would need that kind of help. My friend simply said something like, “I’ll make you dinner then, too, but right now I’d like to do this for you.” Sure, I could have made dinner that night. Instead, we all enjoyed a nice meal while feeling cared for. I can’t emphasize enough how important just feeling like you’re not alone, and that someone cares about what you’re going through is. So if someone offers to do something for you, take them up on it.

Also, don’t be afraid to ask for help. Most people really want to help and support you, but they’re not sure how. They may feel awkward and unsure of what you need, or not want to overstep any boundaries.

4. Let go of perfectionism. You are going to make mistakes and do the wrong thing. You are only human, but guess what? Those around you are only human also, and they make mistakes too. We all need to remember this and be kinder to each other when we slip up, rather than pounce on one another’s mistakes.

5. Take care of yourself. Take care of yourself. Take care of yourself. You’ll do this imperfectly, but don’t forget to spend some time caring for your own needs. No one benefits if you martyr yourself. I’m not surprised that I got sick just a few days after Carol’s death. I knew I was tired and rundown. I was lucky that my case of COVID-19 was mild. 

This, too, shall pass

When you’re dealing with terminal illness, it feels weird that the world is just moving on as normal. You feel like you’re on the outside, looking in. It can be frustrating when others don’t realize your situation, yet you don’t want anyone else to have to go through what you’re going through.

It feels like it will never be different, but know that it will.

If we let them, extended hard times, whatever the cause, can help us build strength, resilience, compassion, and humility. While I wouldn’t choose to go through the experiences I had over the past year, I believe I’m a better person because of those experiences.

“Happiness” is not always possible. But often acceptance, contentment, and meaning are. We don’t need to slap on a happy face when we’re coping with one of life’s inevitable challenges. Life isn’t all simple pleasures and everyday adventures. However, I believe seeking out and savoring those simple pleasures and everyday adventures helps us cope when we are going through the hard days, and helping to fill our well of strength and kindness.

Thank you for your patience and kindness during my absence from Catching Happiness. I plan to resume posting semi-regularly again as long I’m able, depending on my mom’s condition. My mom is currently stable, under Hospice care for now. I’ll be going to California more often to check on her as we continue to monitor her condition. My aunt is improving and able to get around on a walker.


Catching Happiness Temporarily on Hold

February 08, 2023

Just dropping in to say that until further notice, Catching Happiness and the Happy Little Things newsletter will be on hold. My mother-in-law’s condition has deteriorated, and on top of that, my mom is in the hospital in California and I will shortly be flying out to help her. I’m fortunate to have friends and family support, and I hope to be back with you soon.

Link love

New Year, New Link Love Volume III

January 27, 2023

Me after watching one too many animal videos online. Photo by Cookie the Pom on Unsplash

This edition of Link Love is kind of a mixed bag, including a little bit of inspiration, a piece to make you think, an article about a well-known figure who died recently. This is one of the strengths of the internet—something for everyone. Hope you enjoy this list of links I’ve loved recently (click on the lighter colored text to visit the link).

Here’s a round up of good news that took place in 2022.

It’s not too late to start: “52 Acts of Kindness: How to Spread Joy in Every Week of 2023.”

When I was a painfully shy teenager, I read Barbara Walters’ book How to Talk with Practically Anybody About Practically Anything. It helped. Since then, I’ve always admired her, and I enjoyed reading this remembrance after her recent death. 

After reading “We need boredom to lead better lives. But social media is destroying it,” I’m picking up my phone less frequently, and I’m planning at least one “internet fast” in 2023. (Click here for “15 Tips to Help You Spend Less Time on Your Phone.”) 

Yet another secret to happiness: a reverse bucket list—similar to my post, “Just (Don’t) Do It.”

I love Stephanie Hayes’ newsletter, and this opinion column in my local paper made me smile.

I want to drive the dog bus!

(Jake looks a lot like my dog, Luna!)

Have a very happy weekend!


When Choosing One Word Isn’t Enough

January 20, 2023

Photo by Amador Loureiro on Unsplash

The practice of choosing a word of the year is meaningful to me, probably because words are meaningful to me. Since 2010, I’ve chosen a one-word theme each year (except for 2013—I either didn’t choose one, or I didn’t write it down anywhere I can find it now). My word of the year is often something I aspire to (“flow”), or want to have more of (“delight”). I try to choose a word which will influence many areas of my life, one with layers of meaning I hope to discover over time. Some years I’ve found my word meaningful, while others I’ve barely thought of it, or it wound up being a mismatch for what the year turned out to hold (I’m looking at you, “Dare”/ 2021).

I also continue to incorporate previous years’ words in my life—I still try to work “deeper,” for example, and 2022’s “simpler” will continue to guide me for the foreseeable future.   

Life moves swiftly and is complicated, so having just one word/concept to guide me simplifies things when I’m making decisions or unsure of something. However, this year I couldn’t land on one word that resonated. I played with at least a dozen, until earlier this week, I realized 2023 needs three words.

1.      Flexible

As most of you know, I’m the main caregiver for my mother-in-law, Carol. At this point, she needs support more than actual physical care. I mostly coordinate with Hospice, manage her medications, and try to keep her supplied with foods she finds appealing. I’m able to leave the house when I need to, because mostly she takes care of herself (and our adult son is currently living with us and can keep a watchful eye on her). This situation could change at any time, and fast, so I don’t want to load myself with commitments and goals I might not be able to complete. I’m not actively seeking freelance work (though I’m still available!), but I have some writing projects I’ve been working on, off and on, for years, that have no deadlines. While this can sometimes be death to my productivity, this year, I appreciate the flexibility. I plan to use my writing time to explore them. (I’m hoping to spend more time with Catching Happiness, too.)  Which brings me to the word…

2.      Forward

Even before Carol’s health crisis, I’d been waffling about my way forward. Do I still want to write? If so, what types of writing do I want to do? If not, what meaningful work could I do instead? I don’t want a new career (I don’t think?!), but I still want to engage my mental faculties. I also want to earn money. I’ve been stuck for a while. I want to move forward.

3.      Fun

And last but not least, I want to have fun in 2023! The past three years have been decidedly un-fun. I want to be more proactive about finding and indulging in fun. I’ll write more about fun in future blog posts!

There you have them—2023’s words of the year: flexible, forward, and fun.

Do you have a word of the year? Please share in the comments below!

For more information on choosing your own word of the year:

Helen Keller


January 13, 2023

Photo by Alexander Grey on Unsplash

“I long to accomplish a great and noble task; but it is my chief duty and joy to accomplish humble tasks as though they were great and noble…. the world is moved along, not only by the mighty shoves of its heroes, but also by the aggregate of the tiny pushes of each honest worker.”
—Helen Keller


We’re Not Behind

January 06, 2023

I've seen this several places and it cracks me up!
Welcome back! I hope you’ve enjoyed a peaceful and happy start to 2023. It’s been about as peaceful around here as it ever is (except for a couple of home appliances giving up the ghost).

Ready or not, it’s a new year

I wanted to do a lot of reflection on 2022 and some looking ahead to 2023 during the week between Christmas and New Year’s Day, but my husband was off work so we wound up doing some much-needed shopping (see: home appliance death, above) and hanging out together. I wouldn’t trade this, even though it briefly left me feeling behind. Here it is January 6th and I haven’t done any of the things I like to do before the start of a new year. I haven’t chosen a word of the year. I haven’t set any goals for the year, or even for the month. I haven’t made a vision board, or even added birthdays to my new planner.

And that’s OK. I’m not behind. And you’re not either, if you find yourself in the same position I’m in.

Even though the beginning of a new year is a natural starting point, it’s still just an arbitrary date. You can start (or stop) an activity, goal, or dream at any point, on any day.

I would rather be “behind” than rush the process.

I’m gong to continue working thoughtfully through my end-of-the year rituals until that process feels finished. (I’ve also been loving seeing and listening to the goals of some of my favorite bloggers and podcasters. Inspiration for my own.)

New year, new attitude

I spent a good portion of 2022 feeling overwhelmed and, often, depressed. I didn’t have the mental bandwidth to do much more than just what I needed to do to fulfill my commitments and responsibilities. But now I feel a small upwelling of energy and desire. There are things I want to accomplish, places I want to go, people I want to see. While I’m being cautious, it feels great to want to set goals and make changes.

The first week of January has started softly. I’m taking down everything pinned on my bulletin board and I’ve emptied out my Happiness Jar—and started refilling it. I’m listening to music while sitting in my office rocking chair and dreaming of what might be in 2023. I’m feeling happy. I hope you are, too.

How is your new year beginning?

A few fun resources for New Year dreaming and goal-setting:

Gretchen Rubin’s “23 for 23” printable

Best of Both Worlds podcast: 2023 Goals

Every January, Make Two Lists (a more practical alternative to resolutions)