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13 September 2011 35 Comments

I’ve been absent from blogging for awhile, so this is going to be a bit lengthy while I explain my whereabouts this past year. Some of you know why I have been missing in action, and some don’t. For those who are aware, please bear with me, and then we’ll get on with life.

Last summer (2010), I had been living along the beautiful Adriatic Sea and enjoying the heck out of my life. In June, I returned to the U.S. to visit friends and relatives, and to conduct seminars. Topping off my trip was attending the RWA National Conference in Orlando, Florida.

I flew back home via Frankfurt, where my German husband was to meet me, driving up from Croatia. A long trip, but we planned to stay overnight in Stuttgart where his family lived.

When I landed in Frankfurt, there was no sign of Hans. Here was a man who was never late for anything. When his sister and her husband rushed into the airport, I knew something was terribly wrong. They made me sit down before they told me that Hans was in the hospital in Salzburg, Austria following a car accident on the autobahn. I could sense there was more, but at that point, I couldn’t even speak. They went on to tell me that a CT scan had been performed to determine the extent of my husband’s injuries, and the doctors found advanced stage four cancer throughout Hans’s body. What? This strapping 6’4” athletic, tanned and toned Adonis who swam two kilometers a day and walked five was near death? He was too young.

This couldn’t be.

It was.

Two months later, he was gone, and I was left alone in Hungary, an unfamiliar country, while I faced a corrupt Croatian government who promptly declared that we hadn’t filled out three invoices properly so they would seize my property (I kid you not…this for later). That’s how I found myself alone in Budapest where Hans was treated at the famous Semmelweis Hospital and spent his last days in a hospice in the Buda hills. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Semmelweis_University

Numb, I went about the incredibly difficult task of preparing a funeral in a country that still operates business using the old and awkward Communist era methods (I now have Hans’ death certificate in five languages). Compounding the problem is the language barrier. The Hungarian language is considered the second most difficult language in the world (next to the many layers of Japanese), and 74.5% of the citizens do not speak English. During this awful time, I remembered others who’d lost loved ones and how they were given professional advice to refrain from making any changes for a year. Odd as it sounds, my instincts told me that I had to commit to spending a year in Budapest.  Wow!

Here I was in a strange country, unable to speak the language, and without direction. But little miracles have occurred in my life, and the year has passed amazingly fast. I don’t know how long I will remain here—at least until the Croatian legalities are cleared up—but if I had to be stuck in any city, lovely Budapest, with its remarkable history, is the one to be caught in.

What beauty.

What history.

What ease of mobility (the best public transportation facilities in the world).

What lovely people who have come forward to help me along my difficult journey. (Thank you Elemer for scrambling to obtain a five year visa for me!)

Budapest is the most romantic city I have ever lived in. Heck, right at the end of my street is the city park, complete with a lake, zoo, a lovely fairy tale castle (pictured), and the famous Szechenyi Baths that I dip into every chance I get: http://www.budapestgyogyfurdoi.hu/hu/szechenyi/virtualis_seta

I’ve made friends here, cried and laughed here. I am not through grieving, and I cannot yet bring myself to change the “About Me” page on this website because it is the last vestige of a lovely life that once was (I have set a goal to change it on October 5th, the one year mark of my husband’s passing).

From the beginning of this unexpected journey, I knew that I would hold onto the idea that happiness and joy are mine to be had, but it is entirely up to me to allow these passions to exist in my life.

And so I keep on.

I journaled my way through Hans’ illness and passing, and in January, I began to write fiction again. It wasn’t easy, but on August third, I completed a Victorian romance. At eleven PM, I wrote, “The End.” I sighed and looked up to the ceiling, as if to the heavens, and with tears running down my cheeks said, “There you go, Hans. I did it. You’d be so proud.”

 Then, I happened to glance at the date. OMG! August 3rd, exactly one year to the day that I stepped off the plane in Frankfurt—the day my life turned upside down. I don’t think it was any accident that I finished writing my story on that particular date. No matter how hard I pushed toward my earlier goal of completion, it wasn’t happening, but that morning, it was like a fire was lit under me and there I was…at the end.

Shortly thereafter, I had to travel back to Croatia on legal business—my fourth harrowing trip. I find it difficult to be there any more, where every step I take is a reminder of Hans and of our fifteen-year ‘honeymoon’ existence. I caught a ride down, but took to the rails on the way back. The trip is lovely by train, the countryside peaceful, with small villages appearing every now and then that seem lost in time. I had a private compartment to myself most of the way—the kind you see in the movies. As I traveled along, I suddenly realized that I was returning exactly one year to the day that I drove Hans to Budapest, never to return. I don’t think that was any accident, either. A lot of tears fell after my realization.

Hans’ sister died eleven days after he passed, both from the same illness. In less than eighteen months from losing them, I lost a total of five family members on both sides. I’ll never be the same again, but I say this with hope and with something burning deep inside of me: I’ll have a good life…a life as I choose to make it.

Thank heavens, I don’t feel sorry for myself. On the contrary. I feel blessed to have had the time I did with Hans, and that our time together was as good as it was. But now, without choosing this path, I find myself in another chapter of my life. I have opened my arms to healing in whatever way I was meant to, and as I walk around this city, I am often amazed that I, a little girl from Staples, Minnesota, grew up to one day be plunked down in Budapest, Hungary, a place filled with so much beauty, but also filled with so much tragic history it is mind boggling that the Hungarians managed to survive.

I used to teach in my seminars that if you wanted to shake up your ego, move some place where you don’t know anyone. But if you really want to give the old ego a complete twist, try moving to where you don’t even speak the language. Ha! How about that? Two post-Communist countries under my belt, and with two entirely different languages. I guess I was talking to myself all those years.

Let’s see, I met Hans, a German, in a riding stable in Texas (riding English saddle, not western), got married in a castle in Scotland, moved to New York where I ran a well-being center; moved on to Croatia where we played in the sea, and ended up in Hungary, alone and with my roots still in Texas. Is there any hint of a memoir in here? She laughs. I have titled it “Living and Dying in Budapest.”

Despite what I have been through, I look for joy in simple, everyday occurrences, including feeding the little ducks that swim about in the water surrounding the castle in the park. I swear they recognize me because they don’t swim to other people crossing the little footbridge behind the castle, but when I walk up, here they come! Makes my heart sing. I have immersed myself in this city, in the people, culture, even the incredible architecture (there is something very healing and soothing about buildings to me).

So, there you have it, a mini tour of my world this past year. I hope you’ll check in with me as I share my Budapest experiences and my writer’s life (I just found out there is an American writer moving into the apartment next door. He’s due to arrive in less than a month, can hardly wait to chat).

I have lots to share with you if you care to revisit.

What about you? Can you name a single defining moment when your life suddenly changed? I would dearly love to hear from you. In the meantime, enjoy my favorite musical tour of Budapest:





  • Ashlyn Macnamara said:

    Such a year you’ve had, but you’ve kept your spirit through it all.

    I suppose my life suddenly changed on March 25 when I got a call from the RWA saying I finaled in the Golden Heart, but that pales in comparison.

  • kathleen said:

    Oh, Anne, that is a HUGE pivotal point! I’ll bet all the writer’s reading your comment will agree. Thanks for stopping by.

  • Nancy Linehan said:

    I am so glad I had the pleasure of knowing you and Hans as my neighbors here in Naples, NY. and learning so much about your work and what you taught me.

    Continue to write. Your books are so interesting and I hope you will be a famous author some day soon.

    My best to you always.

  • Averil Reisman said:

    Beautifully written, poignant blog, Kathleen. You are so eloquent a writer and so honest with your feelings. Welcome back.

  • kathleen (author) said:

    Thanks, Nancy. You’ve been a wonderful supporter and a great beta reader!

  • Denise Pattison said:

    My life changed on March 12, 1994 at 10:15 pm EST. My husband, daughter, and I were in a one car accident. I had a partial amputation of my right shoulder. Plus, many other broken bones. My husband had a concussion but my daughter was fine.

    It is a night my family and I will never forget. It changed my life and my career.

  • kathleen (author) said:

    Thanks, Averil, it’s good to be back. I had to ‘go with the flow’ and begin when my heart told me to. Guess you can see why I love writing romance!

  • Lori Brighton said:

    Kathleen! I’m so glad you’re back to writing. You have so much to give to this world and I’ve learned so much from you!

    As for Budapest, honsetly I knew nothing about it! But it sounds like a beautiful place. When you mentioned the city and people who have survived so much, I couldn’t help but think of you! You really do amaze me and I’m honored to be your friend.

  • kathleen (author) said:

    Wow, Denise, I did not know this! I knew you were a strong person. I remember our time together at Nationals in Florida, laughing together and having a great time.

  • Tess said:

    What an inspiration you are, Kathleen! God bless. And I know Hans misses you!

    My life changed eleven years ago when I was on vacation. While in the shower, I became dizzy. I’ve had a long road to wellness (countless doctors and multiple treatments)…and I’m still dizzy at times, but I’m seeing the right doc now and so much better than I used to be.

  • kathleen (author) said:

    Thanks, Lori! Same goes for you! I hope I can open a little window to Budapest for everyone. If you ever get a chance to visit here, don’t miss it. Having been married to a German, we traveled to Europe every year when we were ensconced in the U.S. I found I much prefer Eastern Europe to Western. I haven’t quite defined my reasons. They call Budapest the Paris of the East, but I like it a lot more than Paris (beg your pardon, my dear French friend, but you know who you are and you really do like it here better) 🙂

  • Tammy Barham said:

    Your words open my heart to joy, Kathleen. You’re warmth and enduring hope is so very inspiring. I truly hang on every word.

    I’ve had many moments that changed my life, my brother’s transition, my children being born and the day I met you.

  • kathleen (author) said:

    Tess, and after all this for eleven years, you still are able to write beautiful stories. I think we should all take note that we can never let anything stop us!

  • kathleen (author) said:

    Hi Tammy. Thank you for joining me! I think back on the day I met your brother, when I walked into his hospital room and I knew you were the rock in the family. You, are truly my inspiration. You always glow.

  • Paisley Kirkpatrick said:

    Hi Kathleen. I’ve had the joy of reading your emails over the past year, and you even had my husband’s attention. It was just yesterday that he asked if we’d heard from you. You have shared so many beautiful accountings throughout the past year and I encourage everyone to keep up with your blog. You have a great voice and we’ve almost felt like we’ve been there with you at times. I am certain that your Hans is probably sending lots of sunshine down on you right now. He most assuredly is proud and happy you’ve finished your story.

    Take care and know you have lots of friends here in the states.

  • Jeanne Parsley said:

    As always your words inspire and vividly transport the reader to live vicariously through your eloquence. So much this past year, yet like the phoenix, you rise above. Your flight continues to let you soar among the stars.

  • Karen Leach said:

    Kathleen, To share your journey is to share the heartbeat and the heartbreak of humanity. Like Tammy, my world as I knew it, changed the day I met you. We have all experienced transitions, good and bad. There are ebbs and tides and travails and accomplishments in all of our lives. Attending all of your classes and seminars over the last decade has given me strength and purpose to face the mounting obstacles of our every day existence. You are wise beyond words and many lifetimes. I am so excited about you embarking into the literary world and what you have to offer all of us.

  • kathleen (author) said:

    Thanks, Paisley for all your kind words. I am sending out queries now on the story, so we shall see if the tree bears fruit!

  • kathleen (author) said:

    Thanks, Jeanne. I’ve had so much support from afar…Thank the heavens for internet and Skype. I shudder to think how isolated I would have felt without it!

  • kathleen (author) said:

    Hi Karen, As I said to Jeanne, I don’t know what I would have done without the internet and Skype…yay, Skype! Can you imagine how isolated I would have been without both of my ‘wonder tools?” Thanks for stopping by.

  • Barb Steers said:

    Kathleen, I anxiously await your written updates/blogs. Your words are graceful, alive and offer promises of the unexpected, filled with hope. Sharing your journey with all of us has enriched us. I am so looking forward to your first book and all that will follow. Being an avid reader, your style, compassion and depth in painting a story appeals to me and all my senses.
    Thanks Kathleen for sharing your love of life with all of us.

  • Barb Gilliam said:

    I can see you healing, moment by moment.Your question of how my life has changed…Whoa!…caused me to realize the fullness and richness of my time here. My life has changed continuously…World events,precious loved ones’ passings, celebrating my children,all “for a reason.” Meeting you and learning from you has had an enormous influence upon my life’s experiences…you have opened up my psyche to noticing the signals from beyond…many of those signals change my life’s course again and again…I am forever indebted to you for that…Love, Barb.

  • kathleen (author) said:

    Thank you to both Barbs!!!! Hey, I hope you know the book I just finished writing is a historical romance!!! I once heard an author speak who writes both fiction and nonfiction. He said that nonfiction is hard work, sitting in reality, getting things right while fiction is like play – hard work – but still play because you can imagin whatever you want, create all kinds of worlds no two people would write. To him, one was work, the other play and he had to keep both going at once to keephis balance. That’s how I feel!

  • Deb Starr said:

    The day I saw a demonstration of Reiki while a massage therapy student. I said to myself, “I have to learn that”. 10 years later I am in a locker room changing clothes and say out loud, “Ya, I wanna take Reiki” and out from the other side of the locker room I hear a teammates voice, “Deb, I am a Reiki Master”. I knew I had found my teacher, who happened to be a student of yours.
    I am now a Reiki Master myself, honored to be part of this lineage and also a MhD in Metaphysical Healing.
    How fantastic is that?! Truly life transforming.

  • Yvette said:

    Since the day I met you, you have been the epitome of female strength and power. My life has definitely changed since knowing you. I have learned to embrace life and go with it.

    Two other defining moments were finding out of my sisters passing and the day Joaquin Armando was born SEP 27, 2010. My husband and I were honored and blessed to be surrounded by amazing powerful healing women, who held my hand and supported us thru what I expected to be the most natural of births. They were there with us… all the way thru from his birth to day 36 when we got to bring him home, up thru now that he will be a year old. They will forever be his ‘goddess aunts’.

  • kathleen (author) said:

    Thanks for stopping by. I can never think of you without visualizing horses…content horses…you do wonders with helping them heal.

  • kathleen (author) said:

    Hi Yvette,

    What a wonderful life-changing story! Losing a sibling is hard. I lost my brother this past summer and it felt like a piece of me broke off and dissipated in the ethers. I also understand the pain of being a new mother and not knowing if your child with make it! Life changing moments. Thanks for stopping by.

  • Monika said:

    The day that definitely changed my life (for the better) was December 2nd 1983 when my wonderful son Martin was born. He is my joy!!
    He managed to turn a selfish, young woman into a much wiser, loving and caring one.
    God bless him!

    It is so good you are back, Kathleen!!!
    Hope to see you in Croatia soon…

  • kathleen (author) said:

    Thanks for stopping by, Monika from Germany! Hard to imagine you as a selfish person. You are one of the most giving, unselfish people I have ever met! But then, that is what pivotal change is all about…changing fof the better.

  • Ann Young said:

    Kathleen, it has been painful, heart-wrenching, inspiring, and finally uplifting coming full circle with you this past year. I look forward to each update. Thank you for sharing!
    One of the defining moments in my life was most definitely the day I dragged a friend to a “ghost tour” at the Black Swan Inn. A door opened up… and owls began appearing.
    Can’t wait to read your books!

  • kathleen (author) said:

    Thanks for stopping by Anne. I’m one of those authors, like the author of Snow Leopards, who feels compelled to write both fiction and nonfiction. Hope you enjoy both – soon.

  • William Lower said:

    For entirely selfish reasons, I hope your stay in Budapest will be an extended one, as ours has been. Great to spend time with you last night and even better that I found not just you but you’re blog, as well. Sorry we never met Hans, but one thing is certain: he had exceptional taste in women.

  • kathleen (author) said:

    Gosh, Bill (she blushes), thank you for your kind comments! You would have had a great time knowing Hans. When people who knew him sent their condolences, there was a common remark that threaded through–“he was bigger than life.” Quite a statement, I’d say, but the then, I always thought he was as well. I truly enjoyed your hospitality and from one writer to another…I don’t have any James Patterson books personally signed by him as “Jim!” 🙂

  • Adri Bruckner said:

    Dear Kathleen,
    I read about you this week in the NAWA announcements and now I’ve read about your incredible strength and perseverance on your blog. Please send me information about your writing seminars here in Budapest. I hope to become as inspired and motivated as you are! In the meantime, you’re welcome to read my blog about life in Budapest. Best, Adri

  • kathleen (author) said:

    Hi Adri,
    Thank you. I don’t really have writing seminars. The NAWA group asked if I’d be interested in heading up a creative writing class and since I spent 25 years conducting self-empowerment classes, I thought I could tie it into the classes. Suddenly, I was/am excited and hope there are enough people to have a creative gathering this fall and winter!
    Thank you for stopping by.

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