Mom & The Arrival of Choirs of Angels


SALeys Photography 3
Mom – S.A. Leys Photography


For the last three weeks, I have been thinking about mom a lot as she has been battling a cough / illness which was subsequently diagnosed as community-acquired pneumonia. I have spent a lot of time with her and thought she was finally rallying as she sounded better. Until I called her on Friday night. It sounded like her cough was worse and she said she felt nauseated and didn’t want to go to dinner. I called the assisted living place where she was and asked them to check on her. Heard that she said she was feeling fine and didn’t need anything; she’d see them in the morning.

The following morning when the med nurse went to give her her meds, she was nonresponsive and had died. I always remember mom referring to Pneumonia as a “friend of the aged” as it takes you when you are sleeping. When I arrived here Saturday morning, she looked like she always did – quiet, resting comfortably – content. Whenever I arrived here previously she be napping and yell “who’s making all that noise doing dishes in my kitchen?” (usually the first thing I did when I arrived – tried to be quiet but not always successful). On Saturday, there was no response, she was gone. It has not been an easy 24+ ish hours here. Thankfully one of my close friends drove up to lend support and help me develop a plan. Other calls to and from friends have been tough but have also included really funny, very poignant “mom” stories.

In Boston at Brigham and Women’s, there’s a doc who trains other docs on how to handle codes in a compassionate sort of way that encourages Docs to not just leave the room once the code is called. After she calls a code she say’s “may choirs of angels greet thee at thy coming” – which is what I whispered in mom’s ear yesterday morning.

I knew she was ill, but I just wasn’t quite ready for her to go. At one point, the assisted living place was on “lockdown” as visitors were discouraged from coming as a few of the residents were sick. Mom and I basically camped out in her room which was serious but sort of funny when the kitchen staff would show up with masks on and look at us fearfully before saying “we’re not allowed to come in here.” – I felt like saying “that’s okay, just surrender the food.”

At her worst, she had a few nights of severe wheezing. I would go into her room and sit with her while she would point at the places on her back to pat and help her breathe better. We discussed going to the ER a few times as well as the benefits of an IV to help her but she said “no, I’m fine” and eventually would fall back to sleep. We had a few discussions about the severity of her wheezing, weighed against the potential for infection if she went into the hospital. If I had a dollar for every time she said: “No, I’m fine….”

So many of my friends are compassionate and wonderful nurses as mom was, but on this day I can tell you – trying to help and support a nurse and help them feel better – when you are not one, is one of the most hopeless experiences I will ever know. Having the amazing nurse friends that I do and knowing first hand about the rewarding work that they all do has been nothing short of phenomenal. Mom has taught me a lot – several of them have shown abundant compassion and empathy to the patients and families they serve, – it’s been amazing to see.

My brother and I have a little bit of a journey ahead of us but I think I can speak for both of us when I say how much we appreciate the support that has been given to both mom and dad during their more challenging moments and throughout their lives. We are blessed; mom and dad were loved and now she is with him – probably watching over all of us. I had told mom a few weeks ago that sometimes there are parts of my childhood that I just don’t remember. When I arrived to her room on the day that she died and everyone had left (and it was finally quiet), I noticed the baby book she had put together for me when I was born – sitting neatly on top of a few things on a table next to her chair. A bathrobe I had given her, nicely folded on top of the chest where I normally place my boat bags when I arrive – it’s like she knew – phenomenal woman my mom.

“But the Lord..”

SALeys Photography
Mom lived a great life and spent an abundance of the second half of her life caring for my dad. She died a little over a month ago and to say I miss spending time with her is a huge understatement.

When Whitney Houston died, I watched Tyler Perry discuss his relationship with her. He discussed how she would tell him about some of the struggles she was having and he said that just around the time he wanted to console her and say something supportive to her, she would say “but the Lord..” – I was inspired by his words but never quite understood her “but the Lord”… I thought “but the Lord what? – tell me the rest of this..”

I’m not a fan of this grief thing and have been walking around frustrated, sometimes a little angry and resentful and just really, really, really sad. Not a fan of the impromptu tears that come. I’m kinda feeling depressed – that’s what grief does, it makes you take a long hard stare at the importance of the relationships you have and the lessons you’ve learned from someone you love when they leave.

On the day I left the Assisted Living place where mom was, I thought of going down to the dining room but then decided I was too sad and ended up going to Chipotle instead. I stepped up to the counter and ordered a steak bowl. The man behind the counter smiled and asked “how are you doing today?” “Okay,” I said, “not great, not an easy time”. “Sorry to hear that” he said. And then he said that because I wasn’t having a great day, lunch was on him. I thought he was kidding so reached for my card but then the cashier said “No, he’s not kidding – there’s no charge for your lunch today.” “Thank you” I said – completely not wanting to lose it right then and there in the middle of the Chipotle Mexican Grill.

Later in the day, one of the only things left in mom’s apartment was the blazer she had worn for Thanksgiving dinner. It couldn’t go into the quilt I am having made because it needs to be dry cleaned. So for some reason, I don’t understand, I had it dry cleaned and it has been hanging on a door in her room. As I was loading the car, I walked by the laundry room and saw one of mom’s newer friends – a woman she had recently started to have dinner with (it was the same woman who asked if mom was okay – that she was concerned as she hadn’t seen her – when we were riding in the elevator together and I had to tell her that mom had died).

She was trying to get the washer machine to work and asked if I could assist her. So as we stood there together trying to jiggle this and push that, I looked at her and asked: “are you a 14 petite?” (the size of mom’s blazer and yes, a flight of ideas). She said “yes, sometimes I wear a 14 petite, why?” and I explained that I had mom’s blazer and was trying to find a home for it and would she consider trying it on? “sure!” she said.

I walked back to mom’s room to pick up the blazer so she could try it on. It looked perfect on her. “would you like to have it?” I asked. “Certainly!” she said, followed by a huge smile.

It had been a very long frustrating few days where there were moments when I wanted to just be mad at the world, but then these moments (maybe these “but the Lord..” moments) would come where I would be stopped by a brighter moment – a call from a friend to have dinner or another friendly interaction that would guide me to keep moving. And in those moments, I think I may have had a better understanding of “but the Lord…”

Remembering Mom & Dad

Mom & Dad: married for 60 years. If you have a marriage like theirs, don’t let it go.

A few days ago, I heard from one of Mom’s friends:

“Jan had such a full personality. Your parents were such a good match. They each had strengths the other did not and both respected and appreciated the other’s talents. Your Mother used to joke that she couldn’t do any finances. Your Mother planned all their vacations, entertaining so often and such a good cook ~ your Dad once said to me ‘I just hang on to her coattails and have wonderful times.’ Not all marriages appreciate each other’s talents and humour and allow that person leeway. Each of your parents were great on their own but as a team even better.”

Mom and dad were married for just over 60 years and lately I’ve been thinking a lot about the ebb and flow of life, what creates a phenomenal relationship like there’s and how amazing it is to keep a marriage together for 60 years. If you have the type of marriage my mom and dad did, don’t ever let it go.

Be the team, find the individual ways you compliment each other and make each other a better person because of the talents, values and wisdom you bring. Don’t ever let it go.

Unbounded, Limitless Potential


Early one morning I looked out of my window and saw a beautiful day.
Too nice to be inside – I grabbed my camera and my coffee and went out to capture some photos. Within the hour, I was sitting on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial watching our nation wake up.

As I looked out over the reflecting pool, I noticed a young man running along the gravel path that was alongside it. He was running at a really fast clip and seemed to have a destination to his route.

Sure enough, up the steps he ran until he was standing almost in front of me. He seemed to be looking for something. It was almost simultaneously that we both realized that I was sitting right above where he was meant to be – the step with the engraved destination (above).

I watched as he stood looking out over the National Mall with an abundance of energy that was palpable. After a few minutes (which seemed like an hour because of the intensity of his concentration and visualization), he took off running back down the steps and along the path from which he had come.
There was no doubt in my mind that whatever this young man wanted to achieve, he would be able to accomplish his goals based on his speed, determination and vision.

Definitely not an “I kind of have an idea” type of guy.
This experience brought me back to a time in college when I was in the spring semester of my senior year. I was taking a class in Perception and Psychophysics that was not an easy course for me. Additionally, as my professor had written our textbook, comprehensive knowledge of the material was crucial.

I decided to camp out in the corner of the library that overlooked the stage where graduation was to be held. Whenever I struggled through a chapter or needed to study for an exam, I would start by looking out of the window to visualize myself graduating. Sure enough, I passed the course easily, obtained my degree and went on the graduate school.

Wayne Gretzky once said “skate to where the puck will be”. You’d be amazed at what can happen when you apply his wisdom to your life.

I’ve found this is true not only with individual goals but with life experiences as well. We decide what the important lessons will be from the experiences we have and how they will shape our lives. And we can use these lessons to propel us forward – to skate to where the puck will be.

Are their limits to your potential?
How have your experiences shaped who you are?
Where do you want the puck to be?

Navigating The Ebb & Flow of Life


When I was a young girl growing up in Newport, RI, a perfect summer day would consist of spending the morning at the beach and sailing in the afternoon. Initially, I was a little tentative with force of the wind and the waves during the gusty afternoons (similar to the picture above).

But as I learned to hike out over the water to stabilize the boat and kept a watchful eye on the point of sail, eventually the lessons of wind, waves, currents, and tides created a strong foundation for my life. I learned that navigating any challenge was a lot like navigating Narragansett Bay during an afternoon sail.

I learned there is an ebb and flow of life; and that for every close-hauled, upwind sail when the waves would come over the bow of the boat and spray salt water on our faces, there was a downwind sail that would have the warm sun on our backs as we navigated towards home and the safety of the harbor.

From my years of sailing, and then racing one-design sailboats and offshore yachts, I learned a lot about navigation, teamwork, wind, and points of sail and subsequently became a highly skilled navigator and tactician.

Today, I’m still in love with navigation and teamwork. My skills and passion from sailing, combined with my comprehensive education and experience, have transcended into an amazing career in healthcare. Having the ability to serve patients and families with navigating fast-paced, healthcare environments and the difficult conversations related to illnesses, new diagnoses and the provision of care has been an honor. For the clinical teams I’ve coached, trained and debriefed, I’ve learned that navigation involves the delicate art of transitioning from one patient to another and then another while maintaining the compassionate composure and tact necessary in any healthcare environment without ever knowing what the day will bring.

Life Can Change In An Instant


Life can change in an instant.

I’m in graduate school, on my way to the library on a cold Sunday afternoon. The roads are wet, it was snowing and I was driving up a hill in my Mazda LX.

I do not have my seat belt on; they’re for other people.

Not me – I’m strong.

The car coming toward me is in a skid. It’s a large station wagon with wood paneling. I see the tires locked to the side. If they grip the road, the station wagon will go into the lane she (an older woman) is supposed to be in.

The tires never grip the road, and her car hits mine head on. I watch the front of my car fold up like an accordion as I think “wow, this is not going to be good”. As I fall back into the seat, I see the cracked windshield where my head hit. There is blood and broken glass. I fall back and to the side – slumped over the gear shift.

Somehow the door is open and there is a teenager with a red gang bandana looking at me (I am not in a good part of town). “Please get help” I tell him – softly – thinking he probably can’t hear me. I feel like I’m going to throw up. He tells me the other car left. He said “She said she had to go home and get her license”.  He said she “looked drunk”.  She never came back.

The ambulance came and brought me to the ER. It was crowded, I heard there were a lot of accidents that day. I was on a gurney in the hallway. They “would get to me” they said, it “was busy”.

There’s something about lying on your back on a gurney in a busy emergency room on a cold snowy day that gives you all the time in the world to think – especially if you’re tired of trying to count all the dots in the white ceiling tiles above your head.

A lot of time to think about how good seat belts really are, how invincible you really aren’t and how small foreign cars are fun to drive but maybe next time you should look a little more closely at the safety ratings.

The ER team called my college roommate who came to pick me up when I was cleared medically. I had a concussion, a torn MCL (I still sit a little too close to the steering wheel, but I always wear a seat belt), and bruises on my face and head. It “would take a while” for some of the glass to fall out of my head they told me – “just give it time”.

When I got back to our apartment, I called my parents. Initially they said they would call back tomorrow after they thought about what to do. Fifteen minutes later, my mom called back and said “we’ll be there tomorrow, pack enough for a week, we’ll make an appointment with the orthopedist here.”

The following day they arrived in the morning and mom said “we have to go pick up your X-rays at the hospital but dad wants to see your car first”.

We drove to the lot where they had towed my car. My dad opened the door and said to me “you should stay here” and then to my mom “do you want to come?”

“No, not especially” she answered “i’ll stay here”.

After about twenty minutes, dad came back to the car. His face was pale, he looked at my mom, there were tears in his eyes. “We almost lost her” he said, looking at me. – That feeling of invincibility I once had left on that day, right at that moment.

The next few days evolved into months as surgery to repair my torn MCL was scheduled with enough time for rehab.

My graduate school advisor informed me that I would lose my thesis committee as a result of the 3 month delay. She convinced me to take the comprehensive exam to test out for an M.Ed and finish graduate school.

The car was totaled; no more Mazdas – ever.

It was thousands of dollars of unexpected costs, time I couldn’t get back and the loss of a thesis I had hoped to finish and publish.

“Every once in awhile life gets in the way.” My professor used to say. His comment rings true to this day.

Slow down, turn off the phone, buckle up – Life can change in an instant.

A Story (to Substantiate the Need) For National Suicide Prevention Month


There’s something about growing up in a waterfront community and seeing a view like this one (taken by my photographer friend J. Graham) that still haunts me. 

I know if you look at it, you would say “yes, it’s a great picture of a bridge.” But for me, this is a picture that represents the beginning and the “why” behind my healthcare career and my interest in psychology along with some difficult and painful memories.

My friend, Michael, who used to help, coach and tease me all of the time when I was working at a local yacht club, ended his life at a young age by jumping from the center span of the Newport Bridge. In the next few days, as his death became more known to all of us in the community, there were discussions from people who knew him seeing him sitting in his car as they drove down a street along the waterfront: “He seemed to be writing something” one of my friends told me. He regretted that he didn’t stop to speak with him. Then there was another person who said the same thing a few hours later – about seeing him sitting in his car “writing something.”

No one stopped and he died.

I always wondered if there was something I could have said, something I could have done. And then, after wondering and thinking about him frequently for the next several years, I realized that he was gone and I will never know. I realized that, for me, it was more important to remember him for the lessons and the wisdom he taught me, because of the good friend that he was, and the relationship I had with him. That it was important to preserve his legacy, our friendship and the many memories I had of him: the time he explained to me why finishing carpentry was so important, or the time he chastised me for several weeks after arriving at the yacht club to find I had flown the massive burgee upside down when I raised it on the flagpole that morning. “The white stripe starts at the top left!” he yelled. I remembered the several hours he had assisted me voluntarily whenever there were storm warnings, and we needed to make sure everything around the club was boarded up or tied down. He was a thoughtful, talented man with an abundance of potential who died far too soon. 

At that time, people didn’t always know what happened once someone jumped from the bridge. Once their bodies were located (if they were discovered), they would sometimes be transported to one of the docks at a marina close to the bridge while they waited for the medical examiner to come.

I learned about this process during the summers when I was in school (from high school, all the way through graduate school), when I worked as a launch driver, shuttling passengers from their boats in the harbor to different docks around Newport. It was a great way to meet people, work outside on the water and have fun.

But there were a few times when I would be driving towards a dock – this one dock close to the bridge – and see one or two police officers standing over a deceased person on the dock, covered by a blanket. I would slow down and get within about 15 – 20 feet from the dock and ask them where I could go to drop off my passengers. – Because that dock wasn’t the place, and they didn’t need to be any closer the person lying on the dock in front of them.

So this is where you say “if they’re covered by a blanket, then you can’t see their face.” And yes, you would be correct. Except sometimes, you could see their face or their shoes – depending on how tall they were and how small the blanket was. If there was a blanket. If there were shoes.

It was always dark, always a slow, quieter (because voices carry across the water) conversation with the police officers and one that stopped every passenger in my boat from speaking to each other as they slowly realized what was going on.

I decided to go back to school for my bachelors in Psychology when I realized I had seen enough and wanted to do more to help people who felt the same way that my friend Michael, and my other friend Scott did.

September is National Suicide Prevention month (#suicidepreventionmonth), if someone ever tells you they are Depressed, suicidal or need help or emotional support, ask them if they are safe. Let them know that support is available for them (or you) 24 hours a day, 7 days a week from a team of highly qualified, compassionate professionals. Encourage them to reach out to them and ask for the professional assistance and support they need and deserve. If you have an Employee Assistance program, help them to contact them as well.

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (their phone number is 1.800.273.8255).

The Place That Reminds You Of That Time

If you’re like me, you have these moments in time where you know where you were when you received some difficult information. A conversation that stopped you in your tracks because it was just so overwhelming that you had to stop and take it all in because of it’s importance or because of the way it affected you emotionally.

This is a picture of the breakwater in Old Harbor, Block Island (Rhode Island). A shot taken in July of 2009. A few days earlier, I had had surgery for melanoma after being told by three different doctors that I “needed to get this removed quickly… now.” I was lucky to have a great group of physicians but the week had been really intense as a result of hearing the words “it’s cancerous and you need to have it removed now.”

Driving home after the first surgery, I was told that I would have the results in a week and we would decide where to go from there. But as I was driving, I suddenly became really overwhelmed with the events of the week and decided that I needed to be around my family. So when I got home, I called mom and dad who were out on their boat in Block Island. When I asked if I could join them, they said “Yes!” – very enthusiastically – and the next day I was back in the car, on my way from my home in suburban Maryland to New London Ct. to catch the high speed ferry to Block.

My visit with them had been nothing short of phenomenal. Dad’s huge hug when I stepped off the launch onto their boat. Followed by a hug from mom and a dinner of grilled swordfish, garden tomatoes and sweet corn on the cob. The rest of the week had been relaxing and I felt I had left the turbulance from the week before on the mainland – on the ferry dock back in New London.

In the middle of the week, I decided to go for a walk and ended up at the end of this breakwater – taking in the sounds of the foghorns and the waves brushing up against the rocks as I watched people wave to their loved ones who were headed back to New London.

I didn’t expect my cell to go off – but it did; disrupting the gentleness of the afternoon.

It was my Doc, the Dermatologist who reported that they didn’t get all of the cancer and that we would need to schedule more surgery. She informed me we would need to have a plastic surgeon operate because of the size and location of the rapidly growing mole on the back of my leg. – I agreed and within a few days I was back on the high speed ferry headed back to New London and subsequently back to Maryland.

The surgery was scheduled about a week later and I was pleased to hear that the results were good and the melanoma was gone. – One little mole I never saw that would have spread rapidly and killed me if I hadn’t had a very thorough physical by a phenomenal physician backed up by a highly skilled team.

Ya think ya know. – I always thought I would be fine and that I was in great shape. But this very small mole on a spot of my body that i would never have seen changed my life in a minute and made me realize that life is short, a loving family is phenomenal and a great team of physicians? – well – priceless.

And you just see a picture of a breakwater right?

%d bloggers like this: