Getting through: real life ramblings.

I’m generally not the kind of person who posts on social media when the going gets tough. In fact, I usually go in the opposite direction; I tend to retreat and fall off the grid without explanation. I know this makes it difficult to be my friend and I apologize for that. 

Surely I am not unveiling some startling revelation when I say that 2020 was a tough year. It was for many, many people. And while the things I went through maybe weren’t as devastating as what others experienced, the last year and a half did give me a series of roundhouse kicks that have kept the birds twittering around my head for quite some time. I’ve felt stunned and off-kilter for months, letting go of so many things that are important to me as I’ve tried to process each blow in its turn.

And I guess that’s why I’m writing this post… well, for two reasons, actually. Mainly, I feel bad that I’ve neglected my blog and social media accounts, so this is my way of explaining why I’ve faded in and out. Also, I think writing this out will be the cathartic hand-hold I need to fully pull myself out of the pit I’ve been stuck in. 

 So, yeah, there won’t be anything about Ben in this post. Sorry.

I’ll just lay it out, I guess.

  • On March 19, 2020, I turned 50. Ugh.
  • On March 20, 2020, my mom died. She was in a nursing home, cut off from me and my siblings, totally alone when she passed away. Alone. Quarantined. She was old and needed care, but still, it was unexpected and sudden. No final words, no hand holding, no last hugs. No funeral or memorial services allowed. My relationship with my mom was a complicated one, and it’s been difficult to accept that it’s over. She’s gone.
  • During April, my sweet 17-year-old daughter, E, experienced her first real broken heart, and it was a doozy. Staying up nights with her as she cried and trying to help fill her days with activity became a priority through the summer.
  • In June I drove to Seattle to help my sister sort my mom’s things. It was really hard, but it was healing to spend time with her and her family.
  • The day after I got home from that trip, I got a call that my brother-in-law, my other sister’s husband, had a heart attack. He died a couple days later, on June 25. Twenty years older than me, he was a loving force in my messy childhood, and his death cut deep. I returned to Seattle for the social-distanced memorial service, grateful for a chance to say goodbye. 
  • In July we had some euphoric news: my son and his wife (N&L) announced they were expecting their first child, due in February. I was over the moon at being a grandma! But the world spun crazily again when my daughter-in-law miscarried at eleven weeks, another sucker punch.

Those are the biggest of the biggest blows of the year. So much grief and loss. It sucked. Woven through those struggles were my decision to leave my job with Let’s Go!, a round of shingles for myself and chicken pox for two of the kids, the mountains of stress my husband was dealing with as the manager of our local grocery store during COVID, the 20th anniversary of Ben’s death, and my older daughter, S, making the tough decision to call off her engagement (an emotional verdict, but truly a relief). 

I attempted to juggle it all, trying to check in and stay in touch. But really, I alternated between ‘soldiering on’ and burying myself under my blankets, doing the minimum to stay afloat.

All of the goals I was grasping slipped out of my fist. Diving deep into homeschooling my son’s first year of high school, building my freelance business, and returning to a consistent running schedule all kind of wriggled to the floor, squirming in my half-hearted efforts. My to-do lists are literal PILES; seriously, I’m embarrassed as I look around my office and the classroom. I gained 30 pounds of saggy, sluggish bulk, and my energy level hovered around zero most of the time. And the blog? It’s awful. Commitments unfulfilled. Interviews not transcribed. Article drafts unfinished. Audios, videos, photos languishing. Pathetic.


I think I’m coming out of it. I mean, the last six months have been this self-talk marathon of “Donna, you’ve gotta get your shit together.” I feel like I’m shuffling out of the cave into the light, and even though I still have to squint and adjust my vision, good things are happening. I’ve actually (recently) channeled energy into shoving off the covers and taking extreme action. The motivation came through my 15-year-old son (nicknamed Bones).

We have some friends who used to live here in town but they moved to Wisconsin about seven years ago. Bones, who was about 8, was close with their 7-year-old son, and the two became pen pals and have stayed in touch all this time. Now teenagers, they concocted the idea of Bones and I heading that direction for a visit, and Bones was so determined to do it that he saved all of his summer job earnings last year and committed to paying for the gas and hotels. We began making plans for a road trip, just the two of us. 

Underneath my excitement, I couldn’t bear the thought of having my friends see me in such disgusting physical shape. I mean, she was my running partner for years! What would she think? I was embarrassed by how I’d let myself go. And then a secondary incentive joined the mix when I realized that I would only be about a half-hour away from my favorite Cars couple, Kurt and Natalie Gaber. I had to see them! But I didn’t really want them to see me. Ugh. 

Anyway, that was the impetus. I started poking my nose into fitness programs here and there, but of course, any real change takes time, and I didn’t have a lot of that. I ended up doing a 10-Day Green Smoothie Detox (with my doctor’s permission), which ended the night before we left on our trip. It was brutal but I lost 10 pounds (!). Even though I still had a ways to go, I felt a little better about myself and, more importantly, I felt it was the kick in the patootie I needed to rev up my return to the ‘real’ me. 

Our little vacation was fantastic! Bones and I had a blast, traveling 3,500 miles in 10 days. We hit eight different states there and back, spent four adventure-filled days with our friends, and made time for The Badlands, Mount Rushmore, Crazy Horse, and Yellowstone on the return trip, while my sweet hubby and the girls held down the fort at home.

Donna Neale and Kurt Gaber, 2021. Photo by Natalie Gaber.

Oh, AND I got to visit with Kurt and Natalie! Kurt had been working on transforming part of his downstairs family room into a tribute to The Cars and, having promised to have it completed by the time I arrived, he had put on the finishing touches just hours before. 


I’ll write more about the room and my time with Kurt and Nat in a separate post, but this photo gives you an idea of what I walked into. 

Confiding in my girlfriend about my struggles was cathartic and inspiring. She, too, was needing a reboot, so we decided to join forces to spur each other on. I returned home having gained back six of those ten smoothie pounds (hey, it’s hard to eat right on the road!), but my attitude was totally different, and I was armed with a plan. On Monday, May 10, we started a mental toughness challenge called #75HARD. Seventy-five days, five daily challenges, and yeah, it’s hard! No failure allowed – not a sliver – or you have to start back at day 1. Physical fitness is one of the benefits, and I’ve already taken off those six pounds plus some more, and I’m only three weeks in. It’s kind of extreme, but it’s just what I needed. (Oops! Groan… unintended Cars reference, but seriously, it is!)

I’m also putting together a daily schedule to help me redeem the time I’ve lost. I’m purposefully planning portions of the day to work on the things that are important to me, while still focusing on my family. I want to make sure I don’t take the days for granted. 

baby announcementSo that brings me to tonight. I still get hit with grief, but I’m dealing with it better, and I’m focusing on looking ahead; there are lots of positive things on the horizon. E is graduating from high school in a matter of days, and S is dating a guy who is actually NOT a douche. My girls are stronger and smarter after their heartbreak. Bones is balancing more responsibility for his education, and he’ll be starting driver’s ed this summer (gulp!). Aaaaand… N&L are 21 weeks into a happy, healthy pregnancy with our granddaughter, coming in October! I can barely contain my joy! Oh, and I’ve acquired a couple of exciting freelance jobs that have pushed me into learning some new skills, which is always invigorating.

Just writing this — the act of writing — has given me such a boost. I’m looking forward to a productive summer. Onward and upward, my friends!

living outside in the misdemeanor

well some get lost, some are screamers

and it’s easy to tell the great pretenders

they got the broken wings and the flip-top fenders

57 thoughts on “Getting through: real life ramblings.

  1. This is great,& man you’ve been thru the ringer gul,& it will get a lil brighter by & by,but it takes time.Im so sad you’ve been under,& I know with the writing you’ve done,you will get better & better.Stay cool,& peace,love,& prayers for you sweetheart!

    Liked by 3 people

  2. Bravo, Donna! 💚 I am so sorry about all of your losses, but am grateful to hear things are getting better for you and your loved ones, cheers xoxo 💚

    Liked by 3 people

  3. Sometimes we’re so lost in our own world of misery that it’s hard to find the courage to emerge and start living again. There’s no doubt that this last year and a half-ish have been pretty hellish for many of us. Sounds like you really got hit hard, and it was not just a one-two punch, it was repeated blows, one after another. When you were just starting to get to a sort of level of acceptance of one thing, another horrible thing happened. It’s hard to get back up after all that.

    But it seems like you’re on the right track, and the first step is an optimistic attitude. You seem to have that, too. When you commit to a challenge, it’s not just yourself you’re committed to, it’s everyone around you that you don’t want to disappoint. The stakes become higher. I understand.

    Good luck, Donna. You are probably one of the most passionate people I know, and I know that you’ll crush this, and get to a point where you’ll be able to deal with the grief, the sadness and loss, and then wipe the tears and move forward, not let it hold you back. My best wishes to you.

    Liked by 6 people

  4. Dear darling Donna – hugs and more hugs. This sharing has got to have been very difficult. I am glad you did. You are a rock and you have come back pretty quickly all things considered.
    2020/2021 became a very serious time in thousands of ways. Coming out of the dark and into the light has been a process for millions of us. Huge amount of growth as we overcome our challenges.

    I must say I am a little jealous of the trip took with your son. You guys will cherish the memories of that forever. What a great mom you are, and what a fabulous grandma you will be.

    Kurt’s basement! OM goodness a larger than life photo of Ben – you must have freaked!
    That must have helped get your mojo back. I guess we can look forward to a tour here at some point. Xoxoxoxox

    Liked by 4 people

  5. I’m so, so very sorry to hear of your losses this past year, sending you the biggest virtual hugs <3. I agree, writing DOES help tremendously — getting things off your chest. And no need to ever apologize, Donna — I don’t know how you do it all! Also happy (very) belated birthday to you! My 50th is creeping up in a few short months (yikes!). Here’s to all the exciting adventures that await! 🙂

    Liked by 4 people

  6. Dear Donna, I thank you for your frankness and wish you with dignity to go through all the losses and troubles that fate sends you. Your family is with you, your friends and we are your subscribers. Nadia.

    Liked by 3 people

  7. Look above at all the beautiful peoples comments and know I feel like they have all said it best – but I love you with a friendship that is waiting with open heart and arms forever in no matter what shape we are of container we exist , that s pure and forever…and one happy soul to know you are still here with us. You will make it out of the sadness and the pain of dealing with moving forward. Much love and undying support , Brett

    Liked by 3 people

  8. Hi Donna, Sending hugs to you and your family after a difficult year. 2020 is a year must of us would like to forget and never repeat again. Grief will hit you when you least expect it and out of nowhere. You have some wonderful and exciting events coming up in your life, it sounds that you are starting to focus on the good and not the bad. I’m glad you decided to share your life events. Take care and everything will be alright.

    Liked by 2 people

  9. Donna I’m so sorry for all the awful things you had to go through…you are SUCH a Trooper and reading this blog has inspired me Greatly and I hope others will glean the same from it as well. Congradulations to all of the upcoming Wonderful events in store!!! I can Never thank you enough for your site here about Ben and The CARS…you and it are such a TREASURE!!! Rock On and “Let The Good Times Roll” From Here On Out!!!

    Liked by 2 people

  10. Thank you for sharing, Donna. You are special to all of us. This has been such a harsh year for you and you have come through it with scars, but those scars are now badges of courage.
    Lots of love! Norah

    Liked by 3 people

  11. You had so much loss. Like a punch in the gut every other month.
    I am sorry for you and your loved ones. I am glad you took the time to write this. Now I want you to read it and take the time to realize how strong you really are. It was a rough year. I am glad you took the trip. People won’t judge your looks or age. We are happy to see our friends still alive. In our darkest times we emerged warriors. With baby steps we will start living again. Take care always….

    Liked by 2 people

  12. You know I have thought there had to be some reason for you not posting as much. I knew there was no way you were bored with Benjamin, researching Benjamin, writing about Benjamin. And you had mentioned a few times that you were having a rough time. So many time I just wanted to ask if things were okay but since I don’t really know you as well as some of the original regulars I worried I might be intruding.
    I am so sorry for all things you have had to endure this year, but especially your Mom. Having had a time period in my life where I just kept getting one punch after another I know how hard to is to just keep yourself motivated to even get up. Don’t beat yourself up over weight gain or anything that kind of fell by the wayside. Grieving is a long process with ups, downs, flat spells. If you had functioned normally I would worry you were not facing reality. None of us abandoned your page or blog because we’ve all had a lot of stuff going on.

    As far as turning 50! Pssssh that was my best year.
    Let me give a little bit of wisdom from my paternal Grandmother. She was sitting on my bed, I was 17, she was probably the age I am now. (But the difference in our appearance is stark) I was listening to Grand Funk Railroad’s song Time Machine. A very bluesy song and I saw she was tapping her foot. So I said Grandma that is rock n’ roll???? She said it has a good beat. And then she said the words I have tried to live by my entire life. “I still feel young inside my head!!!”.
    See Donna, I know you are that kind of person. Don’t worry about 50 and let yourself go through the process of everything that has happened.

    Liked by 3 people

  13. I am so sorry for all your losses Donna. Quarantine sucked! Not being there with your Mom at the end is a hard thing. I am happy you have a supportive family. I was worried when I did not see you “around” … here and the other pages. Glad to know you are on your way with the healing process. (It is NOT a straight line!) Just be who you are … share with your family. The rest of us can wait. (By our fingertips, but we can wait! ) 😉

    Liked by 2 people

  14. Hi Donna,
    im so very sorry to hear of the passing of your mom, your sweet grand baby and your brother in law. you really got dealt some extremely heavy sadness to go through. im happy to hear though you have come out on the other side of so much pain. its amazing what we have to deal with some times and still be able to pick ourselves up and keep going, the human spirit can be very strong when we really need it to be. praying for you to be rid of all the sadness now, and you can concentrate on much brighter days to come. God bless you, your a stronger woman than i could have been in those times.

    Liked by 2 people

  15. I’m sorry for your family’s losses, Donna.
    I’m glad to hear that you’re starting to come out of your shell, so to speak.

    Liked by 2 people

  16. Dear Donna,
    I’m so very sorry for your loss and all you have been through. This last year has really been rough and oh my gosh how I can relate. So many sad things for you to deal with and yet I knew as I continued to read your story you would pull yourself up again. Strength and faith is something I’ve always felt from you and it seems to always pull us through. Thank you so much for sharing your story and inspiring us to be strong. Wishing you and yours the very best always.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I appreciate your belief in me, VeNell! Your words make me feel so good. You have always been such an encouragement to me, from the very beginning, and I’ll never forget it. You’re a treasure! ❤

      Liked by 2 people

  17. I am so sorry for your losses. I can relate to a few of them myself. You are an incredibly strong person. I think your commitment to your family is awesome. You are such a ‘go getter’. It’s inspiring and admirable and it gives me hope in the downturns in my life. One thing we can count on in this world is that the sun will always rise no matter what. A brand new day is all we need. Oh yeah and really good Ben/Cars songs. lol Good Luck and Godspeed Sweet Purple June.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Your words give me such a boost — thank you! You’re right; each day is a fresh start and a clean slate. I hope that things are looking up for you, too, as you work through your losses. Aren’t you so thankful we have Ben’s music to see us through each trial? It’s one of the constants in my life that I cling to during both the highs and the lows. ❤

      Liked by 2 people

  18. Hey Donna! I’m very sorry for the loss of your mother and brother in law.
    Reading your post makes me realize how I skated through 2020 while you were going through so much. Just watching your posts, events and listening to your podcast over the past year, I felt like you were running circles and kicking butt! Though we have never met, I feel like you are a friend. It hurt my heart reading all your low points. And you still had time for Huckleberry taffy!
    I’m glad you posted this, I love knowing that we have so much in common. You can definitely tell 50 to shove it, I was promised that it would feel great- I’m still waiting.
    I can completely relate to both your girl’s heartbreak- when our kids are sad, we feel it, if not more. I’m so glad you were able to have some high points- your trip and a baby is coming! 🎉
    Thank you for all you have done and we’ve enjoyed this past year. You have made things so fun and enjoyable- your blog, Facebook page and podcast. Sending you a hug and any support you need. Although it looks like there’s a long line forming!
    {{{HUGS!!!}}} 💜

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I love this shot of solidarity — thank you! It means a lot to me to know that you support me in the lean times. There were bursts of energy and purpose in the last year where I felt like I was on the upswing, but then I’d get knocked back again, either by another blow or just by a wave of grief that needed to be worked through. Funneling into the blog and podcast when I could pull myself together always made me feel stronger, like I WAS running circles and kicking butt (even if only for a short time — haha). I’m so thankful that you were able to pull out some good stuff, and do stay tuned; there’s more coming! ❤

      Liked by 2 people

  19. I just had a feeling that you were going through a lot as you were always so cheerful with your posts up until a few months ago. I am glad that you are seeing light at the end of the tunnel with your fitness/diet regime. The trip to WI and SD sounded like a lot of fun! I used to live in WI and of course ND is right next to SD. Thank you for posting, Donna!

    Liked by 2 people

  20. Wow Donna. I am stunned to learn all of this. I knew a few things that you’d told me, but not all. I will message you privately. But publicly I will say your friends appreciate and love you no matter the physical ups & downs and no matter whether you’re flying high or feeling low. You were put through the wringer (perhaps a cycle of Saturn) but you’re back on the upswing! You rock! ❤️

    Liked by 2 people

  21. So much pain and loss, I’m so very sorry…. and such deep, inconsolable experiences; makes my throat lump up and cry. Very brave and cathartic for you to write about everything. I just want to reach out and hug you and help these stages of grief pass more quickly but they have their own pace and groove for everyone and it sounds like you on on your way out of the dark tunnel. You are obviously loved very much by so many, and appreciated so very much by fans like myself. You are a classy pioneer (at least to me you are a pioneer with your Ben writings and so many other creative Ben related things that you’ve been gracious enough to share). What a great sister, wife, Mom, and friend you are; you’re a special person in this world and bless you for sharing your good soul with us fans, your family, and most importantly showing your children that you can keep on keeping on. We need lots of those positively influenced, good-hearted children as members of our society! Hugs Donna, prayers for continued healing.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I appreciate your kind words, Dana; they are so encouraging! I’m not a sharer by nature so it was a bit of a leap for me to put this article out there, but I’m glad I did. All of these sweet responses are giving me strength and inspiration as I keep growing. Thank you for seeing so many beautiful things in my darkness and helping me to focus on them, too. ❤

      Liked by 1 person

  22. Sorry for your loss Donna. Sending good vibes your way, but glad to see your mindset is currently on the upswing. Take it one day at a time and keep rockin’ on.

    Liked by 2 people

  23. Thank you so much for letting us know what you’ve been going through all these months! It was so generous of you to explain all of this. I am so very sorry for the loss of your mother 💔- that must be a life-changing experience. I’m so sorry for all the other losses (brother-in-law!!) and sad things you had to endure. I figured you were working on other projects, were very busy with family, etc. I always marveled at how you got it all done in the first place! I’m so glad the healing process has started and that you have begun to feel more like yourself again! You are so endearing to many of us. I appreciate your honesty, integrity, dedication and forthrightness very much! I’m sorry I never “introduced” myself (I’m one of those who rediscovered Ben the day that Ric died) but hope you don’t mind me calling you a friend when I say, “Take care, my friend!”

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Your sweet words are such an encouragement to me, and they really make me feel special. Thank you so much for writing them! I consider it a privilege to be called ‘friend’ by my readers, and that is exactly how I think of you, too. Sending you a hug! ❤

      Liked by 2 people

  24. Hi Donna! While we don’t know each other, I have enjoyed what you have posted about The Cars, especially Benjamin so much. I’m not a social media person, but I found my way to your post to all you have been and are going through. I am sending my heartfelt hugs and thoughts to you. You are dealing with a lot but by what I have read, even while you struggle, you are on the path to being okay. By saying that, believe me, I understand, it’s never okay for our losses, but you seem to be on the way to finding your new normal of okay. We will always miss what we knew, but you are strong, and if someone like me can find my path, you will too, to the new normal. Everyone thinks of things differently, and I hope with all my heart, I’m not upsetting you. So completely not my intention. I just hope you know that what you post has helped fans of Ben’s and The Cars like me, feel happy and energized, and that knowing that, will help you feel the same. You are an extraordinary person that has many people that you may not know, including those that you do, holding you up and supporting you as you do us. Hugs and Blessings. Vicky

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I’m sorry I missed this comment before, but I’m so happy to read it now! I needed this today. Your words are not upsetting me at all, Vicky; they are very comforting and I feel your hugs. Thank you so much for writing this for me! ❤


  25. Donna,

    You bring joy to us when we read your Ben posts because you give us a little piece of you each time, so here is another “Ben” and “Cars” to watch over you:

    “Stand By Me” by Ben E. King

    When the night has come
    And the land is dark
    And the moon is the only light we’ll see
    No, I won’t be afraid
    Oh, I won’t be afraid
    Just as long as you stand
    Stand by me

    So darlin’, darlin’
    Stand by me, oh, stand by me
    Oh, stand, stand by me
    Stand by me

    If the sky that we look upon
    Should tumble and fall
    Or the mountain should crumble to the sea
    I won’t cry, I won’t cry
    No, I won’t shed a tear
    Just as long as you stand
    Stand by me

    And darlin’, darlin’
    Stand by me, oh, stand by me
    Oh, stand now, stand by me
    Stand by me

    Darlin’, darlin’
    Stand by me, oh, stand by me
    Oh, stand now, stand by me
    Stand by me
    Whenever you’re in trouble
    Won’t you stand by me?
    Oh, stand by me
    Won’t you stand now?
    Oh, stand, stand by me

    “Cars” by Gary Numan

    Here in my car
    I feel safest of all
    I can lock all my doors
    It’s the only way to live
    In cars

    Here in my car
    I can only receive
    I can listen to you
    It keeps me stable for days
    In cars

    Here in my car
    Where the image breaks down
    Will you visit me please
    If I open my door
    In cars

    Here in my car
    I know I’ve started to think
    About leaving tonight
    Although nothing seems right
    In cars

    I hope 2021 is a magical year for you!


    Liked by 2 people

    1. Hi! Thank you so much for checking in. The summer flew away from me as my daughter and her fiance announced they wanted to tie the knot at the end of August, my other daughter was moving to the dorms to start college, and I had several weeks of plans to be on the road. All great stuff, just ACTIVE. Haha I am now settling into my fall routine, homeschooling my son (10th grade) and getting ready for my first grandchild in October. I feel like I’m finally getting time to spend here! Yay! New posts coming soon, provided there are no more curve balls for a little bit. Haha! I hope all is well with you as we head toward the end of 2021. Thank you again for caring and reaching out; it means a lot to me. ❤

      Liked by 2 people

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