Diane Gottlieb writes open-hearted stories about people in pain who choose to grow.

When You Look Back, “Look Back with Love”

Anybody else thinking the holidays are coming too soon?


I can’t believe it’s that time again (but it is)!

I can’t believe I’m having another birthday (my 62nd)!

But I can (and do) believe that there are wonderful things ahead! Here are three things I’m excited for in 2023: I’m editing an anthology coming called Awakenings: Stories of Body & Consciousness. (It’s coming out in October–isn’t that a great cover?!?) I’m working on a collection of essays.  And—fingers and toes crossed—I’m hopeful that I’ll soon have a wonderful agent—and publishing contract for my novel You Oughta Know!


Each year, at the end of December or beginning of January, I usually write a gung-ho-make-New-Year’s-resolutions/revolutions post, but this December seems to be calling for something somewhat quieter. So many of us are exhausted. 2022 has been quite a time.


“Look Back with Love”


I was feeling a bit of heaviness recently, when a wonderful email arrived in my inbox. It was my dear friend Sherry Danner’s newsletter at Nurtured Light.

In her post  “Look Back with Love,” Sherry gently nudges us to be kind to ourselves as we reflect on the year that will soon to come to a close:

“Here’s a suggestion for us strive-to-be-better, try-harder, aim-higher, goal-setting types: before we look back with unflinching eyes at what we didn’t get done in 2022, let’s first look back with love and notice what we did do.”

Amen, Sherry!

I’m reminded of one of my favorite sayings, one I am called to repeat to myself many times over: “Focus on the gains not the gaps.” (I believe this fabulous mantra can be attributed to Dan Sullivan who wrote the book The Gap and the Gain: The High Achievers’ Guide to Happiness, Confidence, and Success.)


In that vein, Sherry offers a list of questions to help her readers acknowledge the many things they DID do in ’22.


Just What the Doctor Ordered


Sherry’s newsletters have such healing wisdom to offer. They often says exactly what I need to hear. And, even better, Sherry guides me in finding the words I need to tell myself.


I am grateful to Sherry for giving me permission to share her questions for a “Look Back with Love” with you:


What are you proud of yourself for doing this year?

What are you proud of yourself for not doing this year?

What acts of kindness did you offer or receive?

Did you share laughter with someone?

Who did you love?

Did you spend time with an animal or in nature?

What did you pray for yourself or others?

What did you most enjoy doing in your down time?

Did you experience awe, wonder, amazement, or joy?

How did you try to take care of yourself?

What are you grateful for this year?


Sherry adds these powerful words: “Our loving eyes see what’s most important with greater clarity than our harsh, critical eyes. If we keep at it, maybe we can all remember to use them more often.”


(I sat down with a journal and a candle in a quiet space—with my phone off!—and wrote the answers to these questions. It was a beautiful and powerful exercise and I highly recommend it! Let me know how it goes!)




The World Lost a Bright Light


On another note, a terribly sad note, a member of our WomanPause community lost her wonderful 21-year-old son on November 19th.

Denise Polis is a dear friend of mine. I met her years ago when I tutored her oldest son for the ACT. Her middle son followed, And then came Michael.


Michael Polis was a bright light in this world. I remember him so fondly. We would sit at the family dining room table, notebooks open, test questions ready to be tackled. Before we started, though, he would always mention something about his cats, who’d often visit us as we plowed through grammar and reading passages. Michael was so very interesting—and interested in the world around him. He was kind and incredibly giving and generous—and a lot of fun! We’d often argue about test answers. He’d advocate for his choices as he would for children in need. We’d laugh, and I’d tell him he’d one day make a great lawyer.


Denise and Michael Polis  9 /4/22

Unfortunately, Michael, along with his light and his kindness, carried the great burden of mental illness. He suffered from bi-polar depression and debilitating OCD. Michael spent years in treatment—all kinds of treatment—so many doctors and meds. He worked incredibly hard to get well and took many steps forward, always with the support of his loving family. But, as Denise wrote in her beautiful tribute to Michael at his wake, “Recently the symptoms of Michael’s illness broke through, seemingly quickly and with a vengeance. He chose not to continue this battle any longer.”


Mental illness can be a terribly destructive force. There needs to be more attention focused on mental health challenges and less stigma, along with greater resources made available, for those who suffer from them.


My heart and love go out to Denise and her family.


I wish you all a wonderful Hannukah, Christmas, and New Year filled with hugs for yourselves and for your loved ones.

Even with all the joy, yummy food, and wonderful friends, I will always remember this is a difficult time for many. Holding you all in my heart.

With much love and gratitude. See you in 2023.






Woman Pause Logo


For one-on-one support in uncovering your voice on the page, please consider working with me! I’d love to join you on your journey!


  1. Tessa Vanderkop on December 20, 2022 at 12:30 am

    Diane, I can’t even begin to tell you how sorry I am for your friend Denise’s loss of her beautiful son Michael. The picture of Michael and his mother, captures life in one single beautiful moment I love how you describe him, because it brings him to life more fully, a funny, cat loving, curious, smart young man. Denise, if you’re reading this I’m sending you so much love . Tonight when I go for a walk I’ll say his name – Michael Polis – and know that this beautiful earth we live on holds his soul, holds his being, as his name is carried by the wind to the far corners of the earth.

    • Diane Gottlieb on December 20, 2022 at 1:54 am

      Oh, Tessa, how beautiful and true: “this beautiful earth we live on holds his soul, holds his being, as his name is carried by the wind to the far corners of the earth.” Thank you for sharing your thoughts and heart.

    • Denise Polis on December 20, 2022 at 5:40 pm

      Thank you Tessa. Michael’s soul was beautiful. Kind, compassionate, loving…albeit tortured through this illness. I believe that his beautiful spirit is still here, but without the pain he had endured. Michael left this world with love in his heart.

  2. Cynthia Wold on December 19, 2022 at 11:52 pm

    Dear Diane and Denise,
    How devastating to lose a son, to lose a young soul with so much to offer. I join you in sorrow at the loss, and am grateful for the sharing about this bright, kind, and talented young man. I also carry loved ones lost to suicide after struggling with a diagnosed or undiagnosed mental illness. Such a tragedy. I am glad to remember their too-short lives.

    Thank you for sharing about Michael’s life.

    • Diane Gottlieb on December 20, 2022 at 1:53 am

      Sorry for your losses too, Cynthia. Mental illness causes so much pain and, all too often, tragedy. I am glad to have shared even just a bit of Michael’s beauty.

    • Denise Polis on December 20, 2022 at 5:44 pm

      Hi Cynthia, I’m sorry you have experienced the tragedy of losing someone to mental illness. It completely devoured my son, who would have had a wonderful future had it not been for this illness. He was so bright, funny, personable, energetic, gregarious. It’s heart-wrenching that he’s gone now, and it was heart-wrenching to watch him battle this for most of his life as well.

  3. Maureen Aitken on December 19, 2022 at 11:36 pm

    Thank you for another contribution to building a wiser, better world.
    Your empathetic voice always gets me.
    But this one hurts.
    Michael sounds like such a beautiful being.
    We are losing too many beautiful people to suicide.
    Your tutoring story just gets me, especially the cats, and the vision of you two disagreeing over the answers.
    My heart goes out to his family, especially Michael’s loving mother.
    May he rest in peace.

    • Diane Gottlieb on December 20, 2022 at 1:51 am

      Oh, remembering our sessions gets me too Maureen. Thank you for your words of comfort to Denise and her family.

    • Denise Polis on December 20, 2022 at 5:46 pm

      Thank you Maureen. Michael was a joy and a light, helping others even while he battled his own issues.

  4. Sue Zueger on December 19, 2022 at 11:11 pm

    Diane –

    Thank you for your beautiful, brave writing. I am sending love and healing to your friend, Denise. My heart hurts for her for Michael sounds like a wonderful soul.
    Thank you again,

    • Diane Gottlieb on December 20, 2022 at 1:49 am

      Thank you, Sue, for sending your love and healing to Denise.

    • Denise Polis on December 21, 2022 at 12:58 pm

      Thank you Sue. Michael was truly special.

  5. Tara Flaherty Guy on December 19, 2022 at 11:10 pm

    Diane, as always, you leave a fragment of your heart on your pages, and in so doing, steal a piece of ours away with you. I am so heartbroken for your dear friend Denise, and her unthinkable loss. I’m not a mother, so all I can do is try to imagine her sorrow…even imagining it is to put a toe into a vast, dark lake of unimaginable grief. Denise, if you happen to read this comment, please know that a childless woman in Minnesota rejoices with you at the precious light and life you gave the world, and mourns with you at the tragic loss of such a shining promise. Wherever you are, you are in my heart, tonight, and always. May Michael’s name be for a blessing.

    • Diane Gottlieb on December 20, 2022 at 1:48 am

      Oh Tara, thank you for sharing your comforting and beautiful thoughts. I think we’re all mourning “the tragic loss of such a shining promise”

    • Denise Polis on December 25, 2022 at 3:29 pm

      Thank you Tara.

  6. Janet Murie on December 19, 2022 at 10:51 pm

    Mental illness is such a dark monster. So sorry for the loss of this lovely young man. I can only imagine the pain his mom is experiencing.

    • Diane Gottlieb on December 20, 2022 at 1:43 am

      Mental illness is a dark monster indeed. Thank you Janet for your thoughts.

  7. Alison McGhee on December 19, 2022 at 9:07 pm

    What a tender and painful column today. Thank you for the photo of Michael and Denise – he radiates sweetness, and so does Denise. Denise, if you read these comments, know that I am “looking back with love” on your beautiful boy. Every mother who knows of your loss, through this column or any other means, is on a deep and unspoken level suffering with you. May you feel Michael’s presence with you, and may you hear his voice when you need it.

    Those of us who have lost loved ones to suicide will carry on the work of helping others understand that mental illness, in all its forms, is illness. That many times it can be treated and we need much more attention focused on treatments old and new. In Michael’s honor today I am making a donation to NAMI, and I’m sending you love and thanks for sharing his story.

    • Diane Gottlieb on December 20, 2022 at 1:43 am

      Thank you Alison for your beautiful words. May Denise “feel Michael’s presence and hear his voice” when she needs it.

    • Denise Polis on December 20, 2022 at 5:33 pm

      Alison, thank you for your compassion, beautiful words, and your donation to NAMI. My heart is broken forever, but I understand the torment my son experienced in his mind. He wrote, “I don’t want to die. But I don’t want to live. They’re not the same.” This past mother’s day Michael told me that “together we would change the world.” He wanted us to educate more people about mental illness. I still believe that he and I will change the world. He has inspired me to honor him through advocacy. It is my purpose to raise more awareness that mental illness is a medical illness that requires the same care and attention as someone battling cancer. And with 8.8 million people suffering from severe mental illness, more funds need to be allocated for mental illness research at the NIH.

  8. Denise Polis on December 19, 2022 at 8:42 pm

    Thank you Diane. xoxox

    • Diane Gottlieb on December 19, 2022 at 9:09 pm

      Holding you in my heart, my friend. XOXOXO

  9. Shlomit on December 19, 2022 at 8:08 pm

    Diane, I did not know Michael but what you write about Michael is touching and his photo radiates his sweetness. It is devastating that he was in such unbearable pain. My heart goes out to his family for the loss of this bright light.

    • Diane Gottlieb on December 19, 2022 at 8:12 pm

      Thank you for your comment, Shlomit. Michael radiated sweetness for sure.

  10. DeAnna on December 19, 2022 at 4:58 pm

    As soon as my grades are turned in, I’m sitting with my journal and answering those questions! What a great way to honor the year and what we have done!
    Sending you love and hugs!

    • Diane Gottlieb on December 19, 2022 at 7:51 pm

      Thanks, DeAnna! Enjoy and let me know what you come up with!

  11. Sherry Danner on December 19, 2022 at 2:55 pm

    Diane! I love this so much…and love you for creating this space for women over 50 who are aching for something that feels safe and real and beautiful. Thank you for reading my newsletter and appreciating my efforts to do that, too. We need more spaces for women at this stage in life to be in the pain and the wonder of it all together! I cannot WAIT to see what you are bringing us in the new year!! THANK YOU!!

    • Diane Gottlieb on December 19, 2022 at 3:39 pm

      Sherry–I love what you create for women. You have helped me so much personally and I feel the powerful healing impact you have on others. And I can’t wait to see what YOU bring us in the new year. THANK YOU!

  12. Trish McDonald on December 19, 2022 at 1:43 pm

    Your generosity is a wonderful gift. I hope to follow your lead in the New Year. Thank you!

    • Diane Gottlieb on December 19, 2022 at 2:03 pm

      Thank you so much Trish, and wishing you all the very best for the New Year!

  13. Ellen Birkett Morris on December 19, 2022 at 1:10 pm

    Wonderful messages to close out the year. Thank you!

    • Diane Gottlieb on December 19, 2022 at 1:15 pm

      Thank you, Ellen! Wishing you all the best for the coming year!

Leave a Comment