Judy Harrison, Life Coach
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Her story

No names necessary, just stories to share—with permission, of course!

The Woman Who Hated Tattoos

As you become empowered by your independence, you might just surprise yourself. One woman I worked with would often comment about tattoos very negatively. We’d be out shopping to decorate her new home; she’d see a woman with a tattoo and say, “Look at her. Why would anyone do that to their body?” I usually responded with a message about personal choice, because that is what I believe. Her tattoo comments continued, and I’ll bet you can guess where this is going. One day I showed up for our consult, and she had a particularly broad, sheepish grin. You guessed it: she pulled the lower part of her sweater to one side and revealed her body art. She said, “I realized I don’t hate tattoos. I envied those other women for having the guts to go for it—to sport a tat!” She went on to tell me that the greatest feeling of empowerment came from knowing that she had a “secret” that the man who thinks he knows everything about her body after fifteen years of marriage doesn’t know. She said that when she sits across the table from him in collaboration, she pictures the tattoo, knowing that he will never know about it unless she chooses to tell him. I’m not suggesting that you go out and start a sleeve. ;-) But, I will encourage you to open your mind to exploring possibilities and challenge your thinking a bit—to be willing to look into your strong reactions and maybe, just maybe, turn those reactions into positive and powerful actions. Welcome to your brand new life—a new, improved you! Tattoos are optional, of course.

I’ll NEVER Date Again

Of course you know how this story ends. But, like a movie you’ve already seen the trailer for and figured out the ending to, it’s the stuff in the middle that makes it all worthwhile.

“I’ll never date again. MEN. They’re all the same: selfish, spoiled...” and this continued. I listened, reminding her here and there that it isn’t fair to judge all men by the actions and choices of a few (or one). She wasn’t ready to absorb this message, and she proceeded to bah-humbug the very idea of good men—including Santa Claus. I continued my message that this is where she’s at right now, and for now she’s honoring and accepting what she feels. I suspected that she might eventually meet someone who would show her another side of the fence. I used the fence analogy because she was loving her new cottage home, complete with white picket fence. She had always wanted this type of home but he had insisted on something larger, more impressive. She was absolutely giddy about her new cottage. One day I was curious and had to ask: “Is it that you really hate men or that you love your home so much that you don’t want to risk letting someone in who will change this perfect picture?” Oh my. Her face went blank. She looked “angry”...no, “sad”...no, “confused”? Oh my goodness. Had I totally ticked her off? Was I going to be kicked out of my position as life coach/interior design consultant? Nope, she was having an “Aha!” moment. She wasn’t just grieving the loss of her marriage, she was afraid of risking change again. She wasn’t ready. What if she met someone and he wanted to move in, or wanted her to sell her home and move in with him? So many thoughts, so many fears floating around unacknowledged—until this moment.

Yep. With her new-found realization she began to view “men” and “dating” differently. Someone to have fun with, someone to just go dancing with, someone to meet for lunch and a few laughs. And, who knows, maybe like him enough to (eventually) invite him to her new home. But only when and if the time felt right for her. The new twist on the proverbial storybook ending—and, she lived happily ever after.

The end.

(And the beginning.)

Sixty Years: A Lifetime of Love

This story is a bit different. The man she loved and enjoyed a happy marriage with for over sixty years (can you imagine?!) had passed away. It wasn’t sudden or unexpected; as she said, “At our age we know the reality.” But she said the adjustment was difficult, and that was a huge understatement. She shared with me that for months she’d find herself setting a place at the table for him, or turning to look at “his chair” to ask him a question when she heard a noise, for a fleeting moment thinking he was walking into the room. It takes a long time to get used to not living with the man you’ve loved for over sixty years. She knew that she needed to make some changes. It had been a foreign idea to her to decorate her home in a way that was “just for her.” After all, she’d spent her entire life making concessions around the fact that she lived with four men: her husband and three sons. She said, “Even the dog was male!” It was nice to hear her giggle. “So, what are we going to do?” I asked her. She had decided it was time to redecorate her bedroom. She had enjoyed the hunting lodge look while her husband was alive, and leaving it as it had always been was somehow comforting. But she was finally ready to make a change. She’d grown up during an era when people didn’t “spend money foolishly,” “didn’t replace things that weren’t broken,” and so on. But, I pointed out, it isn’t foolish or wasteful if it brings you pleasure every day, if it helps you to heal and move on. She deserved to enjoy a new look without guilt. And so we began. Our inspiration piece was a lovely fabric she chose: lots of rose tones, lavender, some hydrangea blue, and soft earthy greens. It was feminine and looked like any grandmother would sigh with delight while admiring it. It was her! Out went the fisherman, hunting, guy-themed lodge look, and in came floral fabrics, furniture painted white, and her favorite rocking chair. When it was completed she beamed, “This is my favorite room...ever!” She told me that even though she was the only person in the house, she’d fix a cup of tea and carry it to her newly decorated bedroom to sip while admiring how lovely her room now felt. One day she called to ask what I thought about us redoing her kitchen, if I thought it could use a little brightening up as well. Yes, indeed I thought she had a great idea. And so, we did just that. After that project was complete, she was ready to move to the living room. She had shifted from keeping things “the same” to making them suit her “new normal.” Photos of her husband and children are in every room. The memories of him and their years together brought her comfort. She tells me often that he is waiting in heaven for her. I too believe that is true. But for now I like knowing that her home feels a little like “heaven on earth.”

The Cancer Room

Her husband had not died, nor were they divorcing. She wanted to talk about her feelings of sadness. She was working with a therapist, and it was helpful in dealing with all that she had been through. But somehow, she felt “stuck.” She couldn’t quite put her finger on why, or what to do. To save you having to read a book, I’ll get right to it. We walked from room to room in her home, discussing as we went along what she liked, didn’t like, etc. As we came to one room in her house she began to tear up. I asked what the tears were about. “I don’t know” was her reply. The truth is, she did know. We all “know” what we “don’t know”; in other words, we sometimes hold the truth in a safe place. We retrieve that feeling and information as we’re ready to feel it and make sense of it. It turned out it was “the cancer room,” the room where he had felt most comfortable sleeping during a very long and difficult cancer treatment regime. I asked her to talk to me, as much as she felt comfortable, about this room, the more detail the better. She cried openly and shared just as openly. What a brave woman! To face something like this head on takes so much strength and courage, and the acknowledgment was her catalyst for change. As soon as she realized that this room almost immobilized her when she’d walk past it, and most especially when she sat in it, she realized that she wanted to change this room entirely. (I want to share a side note here. Not everyone will want or need to make changes. But when something that can be changed is causing hurtful memories to resurface, one healthy way of dealing with it is to create change where you can. We can’t always change something like a cancer diagnosis, but we usually can change our surroundings.) In this case it wasn’t a major, expensive overhaul. And, changing the room color, etc., in and of itself was not the remedy. The goal wasn’t to forget this life experience, but rather to remember it in other ways, and without the daily pain she felt with regards to this room. The room now looks completely different. On a bookcase is a scrapbook that holds photos of “the war” they fought together. Moving forward is not forgetting; it’s moving forward.