Sunday, October 22, 2023



It used to be printed on every shampoo bottle: “Lather, Rinse, Repeat”. I can remember being 14 and staying at my grandmother’s house. As a rule-follower, I did what the label said.

“You don’t need to shampoo your hair twice!” she would say, irritation in her voice. “Once is plenty; we don’t need to be wasting water.”

In that scenario and that era, repetition was considered lavish, extra, over-the-top.

Unnecessary – at least in the realm of shampoo use.

There are situations, though, that call for a healthy dose of repetition. Personally, I’m a fan of repeated family stories. If not for generations of storytelling, I’d never know Grandma once nailed a snake to the floor, or that my great uncle rescued a prized German violin from a neighbor’s attic (later, the violin would become mine).

If not for storytelling, I'd never know Grandma once nailed a snake to the floor, or that my great uncle rescued a prized violin from the neighbor's attic.

Stories grow richer and more textured with every telling. As the decades roll out, stories become the mainstay of our conversations. As we age, our heritage gets woven into our DNA, adding color and depth to the family tree.

Stories matter.

Telling them over again, should never be squelched.

And yet, I have felt a growing impatience with repetition. Have you noticed this too – this annoyance with our beloved narratives?

“You already told me that.” It’s a phrase that’s been hurled in my direction, more than once. It absolutely shuts me down. Why, I wonder, is only fresh news relevant? Yesterday’s news matters too, if you ask me.

But here’s the thing – nobody’s asking.

I can remember begging my parents to tell stories I already knew by heart. There’s nothing like hearing it over again, anticipating the laughter, hearing familiar details and welcoming them like old friends.

Something’s changed.

We even preempt our stories with “Stop me if I’ve told this before…” as a kind of apology.

Repetition is, in fact, a healthy way of processing information. It’s a way to make sense of our messy, complex lives.

Restating an event is like holding it up to the light, having a second look, finding clues. Doing this out loud is good for the soul.

And for every story retold you need a good listener.

To listen is to hold space for that human.

To listen is to show simple respect for their point of view.

To listen is to connect in a way that’s off-the-text, away from the screen.

To actually lean into a conversation is to feel the organic flow of the voice in all its expressions. It’s like your favorite song – and who doesn’t want to hear that one again and again??

Let’s get a bit more specific here: Older people have some things to process and it’s not nice to overlook us as irrelevant or passe.

During one of my jobs as an activity assistant, I sat with residents in a nursing home, listening to their stories. This one dear lady got right to the heart of the matter. She very eloquently said that she had lived several decades and acquired lots of wisdom. With a deep sigh, she confided, “I finally have some wise things to share, but nobody wants to listen.”

I find this profoundly sad and painfully true, now that I’m retired and losing traction in what’s trending and who’s who in the world of social influencers.

Truth is, we are blessed with our own influencers inside our own circles of navigation, every day.

Truth is, we are blessed with our own influencers inside our own circles of navigation, every day.

Why not lean in, linger, and listen? Honor each other’s tendency to repeat, be willing to hear it again and again. Take joy in the familiar cadence of the myths, the legends, the mundane and the splendid.

It all bears repeating. It all craves an ear to hear, a heart to listen and a voice to echo back, “Me too!”

Quit holding your affirmations with tight fists – open your hands and let them fall like confetti on needy shoulders. Then, be prepared to laugh or cry with the joy of sharing a story on repeat.


Manis With Grannies --

There’s a young visionary in Warren who goes around giving manicures to women-of-a-certain-age and inviting them to tell their stories. Her name is Tiffany Marino, and her broadcast is a gift to us all. Listen to Manis with Grannies wherever you get your podcasts. You can also find her on Facebook by searching for “Manis with Grannies” or by visiting her website, If you know a woman 70 or older with an arsenal of stories to share, be sure to get in touch with Tiffany – she’s always looking for the next conversation.

Kathy Joy is a collector of rare, splendid moments. She loves sharing these discoveries with her readers, and welcomes your feedback via email at

Thursday, July 20, 2023

She Hits the Ground Running

I catch the music of tires on pavement, just outside my front door. A little squeal of delight drifts out into the morning; the car door is opened and a beautiful toddler is lifted from her car seat.

My day is about to begin; I’m in charge of a two-year-old named Matilda June.

She is my “Tilly” and I am her “Oma”.

She hits the ground running, this tiny force of nature.

“Oma’s House!” she calls out, filling my grandmother’s heart with unfathomable joy.

Matilda is my very first grandchild, and she has unlocked a space in my life that’s alive with Possibility and new purpose.

I’m loving everything about grandparenting: watching her learn and discover; seeing my daughter step into her Mothering Skills; the stirred-up memories from when I was a young mom – lullabies returning and the mingled smells of crayons, bubble bath and play dough.

I embrace it all, even welcoming the realities of diaper changes, scraped knees, tantrums and teething.

I’ve entered a portal into the-unknown-yet-familiar. There’s no turning back for me. 

I’m all in.

This rite of passage – this mysterious journey into grandparenting --   should be wholly available to All Moms of a Certain Age.

But, sadly, it isn’t.

There are grandmothers and grandfathers who are denied access to their grandchildren. For various heartbreaking reasons.


Family rifts.

Geographical distance.

Strategic rejection.

Ambiguous reasons.

Substance abuse.


Chronic health issues.

Irreconcilable differences in parenting styles.

Financial hardship.

The anguish of this came knocking one day in the grocery store on an otherwise normal Tuesday afternoon.

I was in the checkout line, loading my items onto the counter, when I overheard the conversation in front of me.

Two women exchanging pleasantries – the store clerk and the customer, doing what we women do so naturally: conversing like old friends. They were talking about popsicles, and the store clerk mentioned her granddaughter’s passion for ice cream treats.

Of course, I had to chime in. (As we women do). I offered up how much I love being an “Oma”.

“Do you have grands?” I asked the customer, a tall woman, regal in her silver-gray ponytail, her sundress, her manicured toes. I remember she absolutely exuded warmth and nurture. In my naivete, I simply assumed she had grandkids.

She looked confused at my question, so I repeated it. “Do you have grands?”

That’s when her face clouded over with something like despair and envy mixed.

“I do have grandkids,” she said, “and I used to know them.”

She paused.

“But I don’t know them anymore.”

The world stopped for a moment. The hum and bustle of the store became muted as I struggled to understand her dilemma.

“I used to know them.”

She had grandchildren but she couldn’t be with them. How awful is that?

This dear lady explained her son, the father of her grandchildren, was now divorced and the mother wanted absolutely nothing to do with the extended family; therefore, the children had been cut off from family members they once knew and loved.

I know this kind of thing can happen, but it’s kind of a vague blip on my radar.

Now, here stood a pain-filled human right in front of me, a lovely person paying for her groceries and stepping out into the summer day carrying a certain kind of pain. The pain of severance. 

The ache of empty air where once there was laughter.

The echo of bedtime stories and birthday parties, shadows of memories becoming thick like scar tissue.

Before she left, she turned around and gave me a sad smile. “I’m happy for you, really. Please, enjoy your granddaughter. Because, well … you just never know.”

You just never know.

If you are reading this and you are alienated from your grandchildren, I am deeply, truly sorry. Whatever the reasons, you have been denied the affection of Littles, the loyalty of teenagers, the thrill of seeing young adults launch out into the world.

You are suffering and please know your unseen wounds are visible to Elder Law.

“Grandparent Alienation is a type of elder abuse that occurs when grandparents are unreasonably denied meaningful opportunities to have a relationship and spend time with their grandchildren.”

If you are reading this and you – like me – are abundantly blessed with full access to your offspring’s offspring … revel in that. Drink in ALL the beauty of your situation and be keenly aware of your good fortune.

Tilly June keeps me on my toes. She has only one speed: fast-forward. Together, we go on walks in the woods, inspecting every bug and flower. She loves dandelions.

We make frozen treats and slurp them on the patio, dripping and giggling to our heart’s content.

Her parents invite me on treks to the library, the zoo, the park and the pet store.

It’s all amazing.

And I know it. Every single moment.



A little checklist for the Abundantly Blessed:

ü **Maintain empathy for those missing their grands. Don’t automatically assume other grandparents have it as good as you do.

ü **Be aware there may be legitimate reasons, including the physical safety and emotional welfare of the child, for denial.

ü **Be available to stand in the gap for kids who need a grandparent-figure to influence their young lives. You just may be the answer to somebody’s prayers.

ü **Remain locked and loaded, fully engaged in your joy of being a grandparent.

ü **Happily maintain your bragging rights. You’ve earned them.

ü **Here’s a great resource when you’re thinking up stuff to do with your grands: Type "Macaroni KID" in your search bar. Macaroni KID is a free weekly online newsletter giving you all the kid and family friendly events in your community.


This blog supports Breath of Joy! (



Monday, January 23, 2023



Since the sudden loss of my husband in 2008, I have surrounded myself with likeminded women; tribal comrades who “get me” with a nod or a knowing look. I find this comforting.

There are Facebook groups for widows and Twitter feeds about navigating life in the absence of a soulmate. I find these helpful.

A common thread is the tendency for others to avoid us.

This hurts. We feel alienated. We become less willing to tell you how it really is.

“Once you’re back to normal,” one person cautioned me, “things will fall back into sync”.

Um. What?

What does “normal” even look like?

FACT: There is no returning to normal. Death is a watershed moment. A seismic shift into Bewilderment. It’s not a “journey” either; it’s a hardscrabble slog through uncharted territory.

Death is a watershed moment.

A seismic shift into Bewilderment.

Within days of Roger's funeral, I was told I needed to get right back to work. Being a chronic people pleaser, I did what I was told, and regretted returning too soon. I was emotionally catatonic, unable to make the smallest decisions.

Complete strangers would approach me with something I call “comparison stories” and these were not helpful.

Such as: “You should be grateful your husband’s heart attack was fatal; my husband is hanging on by a thread and I never know when his heart might fail…can you imagine what THAT is like?”

Um, no. I can’t. But thanks, anyway, for holding space for my pain (this sentiment delivered internally, with dripping sarcasm).

But then there was this one friend who materialized like a gift on my back porch. She stood at the threshold and prayed for a buyer - - just the right family to come up the hill and occupy this sprawling acreage with woods and a pond and a barn. A 100-year-old homestead holding laughter in the walls.

I was blown away by her kindness; her refraining from advice and supplying only affirmations. Prayers. Quiet, practical support.

It’s probably true I’m an unruly widow, a rogue variation of who you may think I should be. Sometimes I can be impulsive, often ornery, and emotionally wobbly.

Trouble is, I have no desire to contort myself into another’s definition of “widow”. The business of loss and grief is a messy one. In the end, the shattered pieces look more like a mosaic, less like a well-ordered timeline of “stages”.

A Grief Mosaic

Everybody’s different. Loss is deeply personal to each individual. Some of us will appear crushed, some brave, some stoic. We put on our game faces and go out into the world.

One day at a time.

We’re not asking you to understand us; we’re simply wanting you to walk alongside us on the confused, zig-zaggy pathway of regrouping.

Also, bring snacks please.

What widows really want, is for you to hold our stories. Listen to our ramblings, even when we make no sense.

Listen – not to fix – but to support. Without judgement.

Please do not hold us to a tidy grief timeline. Grief is not linear. Grief is explosive and unpredictable, splintering us and shattering our once-imagined futures.

Grief, kindly, is also an anthem of Resilience.

A soft patchwork quilt of memories.

Maybe, at the end of the day, we are not “widows behaving badly”, but human beings carrying painful stories. 

Can you cut us some slack? Would you simply sit with us and bear witness to our pain? Allow us, please, to be messy. 




A fellow sojourner once said to me, “I just wish I could spill my stories on the floor and then have another person pick up the pieces, hold them to the light, and see the beauty in my memories. That’s all I really want.”


She’s right. A grieving person needs you to hold space for them. Not to fix, not to advise, and especially not to correct.

Simply to listen. And maybe bring snacks.

The years have loosened my grip on expectations. I’m less apt to be offended by random comments; rather, I have deeper empathy for that person’s story. Because “death” manifests itself in many ways: loss of a job, divorce, financial hardship, wayward children, and detoured dreams.   

My gaze has softened into pastels of acceptance. The view from here is manageable, even joy filled.

Pardon me if I sometimes behave badly. This, too, is part of being a widow. You cut me some slack; I’ll float you some grace.

We’ve got this.

And if you find yourself wandering the colorless landscape that has no spouse, no hand to hold, no snacks to share … please know I will walk beside you. In solidarity. In a quiet knowing, a thundering empathy.


As seen in SILVER, a magazine for seniors in Western New York and Northwestern Pennsylvania

Published January 2023