Forgiving the Dead & Others

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After we lose a spouse there is a tendency to canonize her or him. Many remember only the good traits of the person who was once a part of life here on earth. To be fair, for many their spouse was their angel, loving, kind, generous, compassionate, a comfort and support. But for many others their experience with their spouse may not have been as wonderful. After years of suffering with a not so great husband or wife, their death may have those spouses who remain breathing a secret sigh of relief.

Grief and loss are complicated. Friends and family who may have been aware that someone’s deceased partner was rather insufferable, might be confused by the depth of grief the remaining partner exhibits. I’ve heard people say, “I don’t know why she (he) is so sad. Everyone knows that _______ was a tyrant, abusive, controlling etc. It should be a relief that they are now gone.”

But the sorrow that one feels after losing a spouse is mired in complex emotional attachments, patterns and feelings that others cannot know. Our friends and family have no right to judge as they could never know the true dynamic of a marriage, even one that may have been tumultuous, abusive, hard, and burdensome.

I knew of a woman who was in such a difficult marriage. Outward appearances seemed as if everything was just fine. This woman was so unhappy that she would secretly wish that her husband would die. One snowy afternoon there was a huge plane crash, and although her husband was not on the plane, he became an on ground casualty as the business that he ran was hit by the plane when it careened into the building that he worked in. My friend was in a state of shock, and I can assure you that her initial feelings were not feelings of joy. On the contrary she was distraught, sad,and had feelings of guilt because of the death wish she had secretly harbored for her husband. This instant widow now had to act like the bereaved wife, which she was, but also had to grapple with feelings of guilt (which reminds one to be careful what you wish for).

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Only after years of therapy, was she able to deal with the grief, shame, relief, and huge guilt that the untimely death of her spouse had burdened her with. Eventually, she, now the single parent, raised a hugely successful son and learned that many tragic circumstances are not caused by God, but are random events that occur as a part of life. She wisely chose to seek help to assist her in unpacking and examining her mixed emotional response to her loss, and would one day create a new life while unburdening herself from a shroud of guilt.

I also knew of another woman whose life with her husband was less than great. When he became ill, she was his primary caretaker and angrily cared for him until he died. When he finally passed away she was furious with him. She felt abandoned, betrayed, alone and cheated out of whatever miserable life she had planned to live with him forever. She felt that he had left her purposefully. This woman, to this day is still filled with hate and anger toward her long gone spouse. She has not sought professional help and remains consumed with bitterness, which has prevented her from constructing a new life and taking herself in a new direction.

Bearing the burden of unforgiveness can keep widows /widowers stuck on their grief journey. Although the spouse is no longer on earth, they’ve literally moved on, the remaining spouse finds it difficult to do the same.There are so many unanswered questions and sometimes it’s easier for people to deny the truth of who their spouse really was so instead, they choose to remember only the good attributes, constructing a false memory that they’re able to live with, while still secretly harboring feelings of hurt and pain.

It would be a good exercise to write down all the hurts and acts of unkindness that one endured at the hands of a deceased spouse. After seeing all the unkind acts on paper, the first step would be to think about each, feel the pain and then forgive the individual. Feel the anger, rail, scream then let those feelings go. It will take awhile to come to a place of forgiveness, but remember the hurt and the bitterness that you’re feeling, your spouse is no longer here to witness. Thus, you’re doing this exercise for yourself because it is about you having the opportunity to open your life up to new possibilities without having to lug the baggage of your old and now forever gone relationship into your new beginning, your new life.

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I would also suggest this exercise for those who generally are having a hard time moving one’s life forward, and this goes for anyone who has long standing hurts from a former husband who may still be alive, or for a child who was abandoned by a parent. Counseling can assist one to move through these life determining issues. I know of people who were in bad first marriages who went on to remarry but still carry great anger for the original spouse. These feelings will manifest as mistrust, anger, bitterness, brittleness, intimacy issues and on and on. Let it go, because I promise you, those longstanding leftover feelings will seep into all the relationships that you have going forward. Trained counselors and therapists can help people identify the triggers of their anger and turn those bitter emotions into the fuel that will help folks to live constructive lives.

Forgiving the dead will create a pathway, by which you can lay down your anger, grief, sorrow, and heal in order to begin a new chapter without dragging that emotional baggage into the new life you’re about to rebuild.

Some say they  forgive but don’t forget but I believe that once a partner has departed this life, it is up to us to move on without dragging former chapters of an old book with us. Remembering the thoughtlessness, abuse, indiscretions of departed partners keeps them alive in ways that do more harm than good. We want our memory of our lost spouse to be one that is true to who they truly were, which will help to free us of the negative control that they may have had over us for many, many years, thus allowing one to live a new life unburdened of negative feelings and memories from the past.

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To find out more about how you can heal after loss read Brave in a New World:A Guide to Grieving the Loss of a Spouse available on Amazon http://tinyurl.com/jnjs5fu

 

The Maze and the Shift

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I often write about the aftermath of grief. It is my own personal experience with this that inspired me to write Brave in A New World: A Guide to Grieving the Loss of a Spouse. It’s been ten years since my husband passed, and I’ve found myself thinking about those early days right after his death. I just knew that the grief state I was in was where I would remain forever. Shared stories of loss and recent personal experiences with losing friends and family, which seems to be occurring more frequently these days, conjure up old memories as well as my own feelings from that time. Recently, I thought back to those cold, gray, hollow days following the death of my husband Chuck, and I remembered feeling desperate and full of despair.The fact that it was winter amplified my emotional state as the gray days seemed to grieve with me as I walked around in circles not knowing what to do next.

It was like being in a maze as I would awake, sometimes in the middle of the night, seeking Chuck, seeking comfort, seeking answers, searching for a way out of the nightmare that I was experiencing. I would wander aimlessly around my home, sitting in Chuck’s favorite leather recliner, hoping for and fearing a hint of his presence. I would exhaust myself before returning to sleep which was the only escape from this new, crazy, wretched world I found myself in, and this became a ritual that I would perform nightly and daily.

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I could no longer see color, or beauty. I could no longer laugh, me the happy one, the funny girl, as I was immersed in my tears and sadness. The site of flowers pained me so, as they reminded me of losing Chuck and how my husband could no longer share in the beauty of Mother Nature’s bounty. My husband brought me flowers all the time, just because and to look at the many, many arrangements now displayed on my mantle with cards of sympathy made me sad.

In the beginning, my son would come once a week on Wednesdays to stay with me. I so welcomed his visits, more than he would know, as his presence gave me respite from my new grief ridden and solitary life. Knowing that I could count on someone being there with me helped to provide a little bit of distraction even if my son didn’t fully grasp the depths of my sorrow. Everyday was the same, the tears, the rage at God, the aimlessness, the anxiety, I just knew that this was my new life. I was caught up in a maze without any escape.

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I know that during that time people phoned and came by but time has blurred many of those recollections, as all I can recall was the incredible loneliness, the nagging questions that lingered and the anger that I felt at the very fact that my husband had been snatched from this life, unceremoniously and unapologetically. My life continued like this everyday, day in and day out.

Many months passed and then one day I had a realization that my life was beginning to change. I suddenly noticed that I had no one else to consider except myself. Nothing was as before. My son was working and in school and really needed his time so we agreed that he could stop coming to mommy-sit. This shift actually helped me to become more acclimated to being fully on my own as I began experiencing a rebirth of myself. I was at the precipice of a new beginning and it was this epiphany that helped me to slowly close the door on my old life and tip-toe into the new one that had landed in front of me.

As I began to settle into my aloneness I soon realized that I no longer had to hang two sets of towels in the bathroom, our monogram in full view; I no longer needed to set two places at the dinner table anymore. And, in time I came to know that I no longer had the need to hold on to every item of my husband’s, because the truth was, he was gone forever and was never coming back to this plane. Each new realization caused me pain and brought down the tears, but I was also getting used to my new normal.

I began to make changes in my home that suited my tastes and my needs. I no longer had anyone else’s opinion to consider. This was a little hard at first, as I was used to getting feedback from Chuck, having conversations before big decisions were made, sharing ideas. But what I was learning, as my new reality set in, was that I could now do whatever I wanted. I was writing a new chapter, this was my new beginning. There was no joy in this realization, only a need to move on, live life, my new life, to do good and most importantly, to survive.

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When you lose a spouse your world as you know it comes to a screeching halt. You look around and there’s dead silence with only faint whispers of your life with another, that has suddenly vanished. You are full of despair and sorrow, and may even feel nervous, anxious, agoraphobic, and other unidentifiable feelings that make it seem as if you will never be the same.

But here’s the good news-you won’t be the same and are not meant to be. The shift taking place in your life was what this loss was meant to bring. The challenge for you is to get through your grief journey, wallow in it, feel the pain, walk through the grief maze repeating it over and over and over again until you’re done.

It’s all a process and having been through this experience I can assure you that once you endure it, a new life awaits you. I can’t guarantee that it will be better, as in my case, but I can assure you that your new life will be all about you and you will be the author of the 1st chapter in your new beginning. You will have choices and you will be able to make decisions that will carry you into your future. Eventually, you will see that the remaining essence of your lost spouse becomes a part of a new foundation that will fortify you, inspire you and motivate you out of the maze as your life shifts and you start over again stepping into your New Beginning.

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To find out more about how you can heal after loss read Brave in a New World:A Guide to Grieving the Loss of a Spouse available on Amazon http://tinyurl.com/jnjs5

 

 

 

There Will be Signs

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Back in the winter of 2009, about 4 months after Chuck had passed away, I’d decided that I was ready for a bereavement group. I set up an interview and when I arrived the facilitator asked me to tell my story. I immediately found myself weeping uncontrollably. My husband had been treated for his cancer at Sloan Kettering Hospital in New York City, and this was my first trip back to the facility since my husband had been discharged and put on hospice care at home. I automatically had flashbacks of that time leading up to his death. I hadn’t anticipated that this ordinary interview would be so jarring, but it was. The facilitator handed me tissues, I cried and cried as I wiped away the constant flow of tears. When I was done and deemed ready for a group, I left feeling drained as I walked out onto the street.The late winter air had turned a bit cooler and very windy.

I walked across to Park Ave. and hailed a cab. As I was riding up Park Ave., I decided to close my eyes, which were still bleary behind my huge black sunglasses. Because of the sudden shift in temperature I rolled the window up and left maybe 1/2 inch open for a little air. I was immersed in my sad thoughts when suddenly, a bunch of pink cherry blossoms flew into the window and landed on my lap. I was so startled, I let out a small scream. At that point, the cab driver eyed me through the rear view mirror curiously.The little blossoms floated in for about 30 seconds and fell onto my lap. I knew, in that moment, that that was Chuck sending me a sign of comfort and reassurance. I wept silently all the rest of the way home.Another time  I was in my elevator with a woman whose son had been taught by my husband. She was talking about  Mr.Loftin and recalling memories of times she herself had spent with him in his classroom and on class trips. As she got off at her floor, the overhead lights in the elevator began blinking, kind of like a Morse Code. I was startled and about to call the woman to witness what was taking place, but I couldn’t recall her name (widow brain). The doors shut and the lights blinked until I reached my floor, then when I got off they stopped.I would continue to have many of these occurrences and, initially, right after Chuck had passed, it wasn’t immediately apparent to me that they might be signals from my husband. However, when I became aware that these events appeared intentional and not random, I began to pay attention.

One night, I had risen and gone out into my dining room to sit at my table and watch TV; it was around 4:00 o’clock in the morning. At that time, I used to have a beautiful fan above my dining room table. It was controlled by remote that I kept on the wall in a remote  holder. That morning, it was a freezing in the dead of winter and just about a few weeks after Chuck had passed. As I sat watching TV, I suddenly began to feel cold. When I looked up the fan was whirring above my head. I was astonished and quickly retrieved the remote to shut the fan off. I shared this experience with a  friend and she suggested that I talked to Chuck and tell him that I appreciated “ hearing from him” but that I’d prefer if the signs came in the daytime and that they did not make me feel uncomfortable. At that point I was willing to do anything and soon after having “spoken” to my husband the signs became less frequent and were confined to the day.  Eventually the frequency of them diminished greatly and  I took this to mean that Chuck’s spirit did not want to hamper my recovery, because, after all, he was no longer here and I still had a life to continue on this earthly plane.

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One of the gentlemen in my bereavement group called these occurrences supernatural experiences. He felt that this was a great way to describe unusual occurrences that happened after a loved one passed away and that the name did not necessarily have to be attached to any kind of religious experience. Some folks have them and are reluctant to talk about them, while many never have them or do not make the connection that a sudden unusual occurrence  might be a signal from their lost loved one. Still others have them and will talk about them freely if they have a receptive listener or audience. Many, however, dismiss the whole notion of spirit and spiritual connections or signs from the dead and all of these responses are just fine.

I do believe that after we lose his spouse, we can still connect with them although they are no longer here with us. We might even get answers that come in the form of  dreams, random thoughts, discovery of  surprise treasures around the home, or through nature or any experience that brings peace, surprise, comfort or makes one feel that their loved one is near.The same gentleman from my bereavement group spoke about how he would go to bed at night and feel the covers being pulled up on him when he was falling off to sleep.He soon found that when he shared his experience with his daughter,she told him that she too had been having the same experience when she fell off to sleep. They concluded that it was their wife/mother who was tucking them in as they slept.

It is hard to figure out what’s real and what’s not or what to make of these “experiences”. Some might call them little miracles while others might call them weird. I’m sure that when people have these experiences it’s not easy for them to share only to  face ridicule from friends and family. I believe it’s a good idea to record each sign so that after a while you can look back on what you’ve seen and heard and possibly find answers or just comfort in what you have witnessed. I did find each experience a little scary and unsettling. For example, there was the time right after Chuck had passed away that every time I passed my elevator it opened and closed on my floor over and over while I walked by in the hallway. There was also the discovery of a Mother’s Day card, never sent to me signed by Chuck the day before the first Mother’s Day.Over time I became more used to these signs and I believed it was Chuck letting me know he was keeping watch and that I would one day be OK.

Which brings me to the pink flower petals found on the rug under my air conditioner in my bedroom this year. It was a day or two before Chuck’s birthday and there on the rug lay a beautiful bright pink flower petal. The window was closed and there weren’t any flowers in my bedroom. It wasn’t a silk petal but a real pink flower petal. Later that day, I came across another just like the other on the floor of my balcony. I took them and saved them adding them to my now faded cherry blossom petals that had found their way through a teeny opening flown into my lap so many years before.

I believe, with certainty that these were all signs from Chuck. In the beginning they were to bring comfort to me, but as time went on and the signs became less frequent, I realized that Chuck was sending me a signal that he wanted me to move on with my life. I believe that the sudden gift of the flower petals was his way of giving me a thumbs up on my progress. He wanted me to go on with my life, and I have and he is satisfied.

Many people who lose a spouse will have signs from their loved ones, and many more are eager to share stories with the receptive listener. Some chalk these experiences up to wishful thinking, active imaginations, etc. But still others relate stories of loved ones appearing on a beach, or by their side, or of a dog appearing to guide one through a tough neighborhood and then disappearing. Sometimes people can smell the scent of a loved one, they hear their loved one called their name, they see someone on the street that looks like the deceased person and they feel these are all signs of reassurance. However the messages come and the signs are manifested, if we do not notice them, we miss the opportunity to connect with our lost loved ones once more.

I would suggest, particularly to those who have become fresh widows, that you try to be open to indications that your spouse is sending you signs of love. For he or she as they struggle to acclimate to their new plane, want you to know that you are still loved, that you will grieve and soon recover, and that you must continue on with your new life knowing that the love you once had is still with you and that is where it will always remain.

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Fresh blossoms from Chuck

 

To find out more about how you can heal after loss read Brave in a New World:A Guide to Grieving the Loss of a Spouse available on Amazon http://tinyurl.com/jnjs5

Grab Your Girls & Go

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Several years ago, I was at an outdoor event chatting with friends. I had just begun to write Brave in a New World and I was talking with a gentleman who, after having expressed his condolences to me, shared that he didn’t know what his wife would do should he die first. He went on to explain that his wife was very close to him and to her siblings but she didn’t have any other friends outside of her family. Apparently, she spoke to her sisters by phone nearly every day. He worried that should anything happen to him, she would not have friends of her own to support, embrace and comfort her. He went on to say she belonged to a church, and yes the congregation would be there to support, but having friends who could really be there for her in the hard times, was an area in which she was lacking. He said he encouraged her to seek out girlfriends, but she was reluctant to do so as she only felt comfortable with him and her family. I know that this a common issue for many.
When widows write me, often they’re looking to reestablish their lives, and meet people, but they’re clueless as to how to begin the process of connecting with new men and women.
I’m here to tell you that along with everything else that a widow or widower has gone through, the loss, the grief, acclimating to the loneliness, and the absence of their spouse, when the dust settles and they want to branch out and meet new people, the thought of putting themselves out there can be a daunting one.

Ring around the Rosie back in the day

When my husband passed away, I suddenly realized that the world had changed drastically. First of all, I was older, second of all many of our friends had been couples. I found myself thrust into an age when connecting and communicating with others was vastly different than it had been many years before. It wasn’t easy and I felt like a fish out of water. But luckily for me I’d had lots of girlfriends whom I’d remained close with over the years, and true to form, most of them rallied around me after my husband Chuck passed away. In the beginning of my loss, seeing friends became difficult for me because I didn’t want to burden them and I actually wanted to be alone most days.

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Soon, I found myself forcing myself to get out and meet those pals who were available. We’d have lunch, dinner, go to museums, meet after church, and see each other often. After awhile the meetups died down and there was the occasional phone call , but I was on the recovery journey and not quite sure where I’d land next. Luckily, I managed to make new friends which led to more new friendships. I found these people had fresh ideas and were tuned into living life in fun new ways. They had adventurous suggestions, and were available to meet, drink and be merry. After a while I began to see a future for myself as I enjoyed life more and more each day, while distancing myself from my grief and seeing life as filled with hope and possibility.

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Here’s the difference between new and old pals. Some of your longterm friends see you as you once were, now the widow. But you will be changing and the subtle nuances that are manifested may be missed by those who have known you for a long time. None of my old friends had lost a spouse, some had never married, so although they recognized the loss and sympathized with me, they sort of missed the internal metamorphosis that was taking place within me. The reason for this is because they carry your history and see you through that lens. Newer friends see you as you are, the widow, but also as who you are becoming now, therefore their impressions of you aren’t influenced by who you once were. Your tastes, likes and dislikes may begin to change once the veil of grief begins to slowly lift. For example, I may have loved to go antiquing thirty five years ago, but now I just want to search for modern accessories for my home. I may have loved to watch old movies, but because my husband was a movie buff I no longer enjoyed that pastime. Watching old movies just filled me with grief and sorrow and reminded me of losing Chuck. I once loved very light colored woods for my home, blonde shades, light oak, but my tastes changed with the times as I found myself gravitating toward darker wood stains and more contemporary styles for my home. I also discovered that friends who were a bit younger are less apprehensive about doing activities that longtime friends and peers may not encourage you to do. Online dating is a great example of one of those realms that younger pals will be more open to and will encourage you to do if and when you reach a point where you decide that you want to start dating again; but, then again, that will be up to you. Part of this shift in norms is because younger folks (even as little as 7 or eight years your junior) have grown up in an age where online dating is normal and they’re not as fearful of this new approach to connecting with people. They are also more willing to take a risk when putting themselves out there and will encourage you to do the same.This does not hold true for everyone, but it has been my experience as I recreated my life after death.
One must learn how to navigate new and old friendships, as you reshape your new alone life to suit your needs, and your lifestyle. But for those who find themselves at a loss for companions and would like to get out and do more with friends, here are some suggestions:
1 If you’ve never pledged a sorority this may be a good time to think about it. There are many graduate chapters of sororities and fraternities. This is a great way to meet new people and to have fun in the process. Check each fraternity and or sorority for guidelines and requirements for joining.
2 Become more involved in your place of worship. If you don’t belong to a place of worship and you’ve contemplated becoming a member of one, this would be a great time to visit a few churches to find one that’s suited for you. Many churches have social activities for different age groups, and they zero in on a variety of interests. I know that my church offers movies, Bible study classes, young adult get togethers, senior groups, and many opportunities to volunteer. Investigate and find a faith home that is comfortable and welcoming and explore becoming a member of a faith community. It’s a great way to connect with like minded individuals.
3 Look up old friends. Sometimes our lives become so busy especially when we’re married. We bump into people, old pals, and even discover former friends on social media. We promise to connect, but never do. After losing a spouse, this is a great time to reach out and connect with long lost friends and acquaintances. They will be so glad to hear from you and will be happy that you reached out. They will want to listen to you and be there for you as you tell them about your loss. I found that people I didn’t know quite as well, offered me the kindest words, and a patient listening ear. Sometimes, they have experienced a loss as well and the new connection can help you both to heal as you make future plans.
4 Bereavement Groups -a wonderful place to become a part of a like minded community. They’ll “get” you. You’re looking for a place where you can feel safe and steady. After several meetings your group will soon become your extended family. In my group, when the requisite sessions finished, we didn’t want to leave each other so soon, so we continued to meet for dinners for several years and even though eventually we all went our own way, we all felt stronger and better for having met each other.We had given each other the strength we needed and the encouragement to heal and to look forward to a new life without our spouses. Anything we wanted to do was encouraged by our group.We’d been through so much and we just wanted to now live our lives unrestricted and without judgement.
5 Volunteer -there are many organizations, religious communities, schools, hospitals, senior homes, and non profit organizations that would love to have volunteers. What a wonderful way to give back and begin to feel a part of a community of people again. It’s a great distraction from your own sorrows and it’s a great way to rebuild your self esteem.You will also make new friends and develop new social ties. It’s nice to meet people from diverse backgrounds and cultures. Sometimes this can open you up to a whole new world that you never even imagined and soon you will be learning and partaking in activities that broaden your horizons… all this, as you reclaim your life.

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My Wedding Party

Part of becoming a part of life again really is hastened by one’s connections to others. Whether old or new bonds, friends will guide you along the path of not giving up and inspire you to continue to live life to the fullest even though your spouse is no longer here.

It’s a good idea to develop friendships your whole life through. You don’t want to face life without your spouse totally alone. Even children will not provide the solace that a good friend will give. They will offer a shoulder to cry on, a listening ear, a helping hand. Some will be able to be there for you 24/7, others may not be as reliable. But if you have several pals you will be able to share the burden of your loss with a few and not overburden just one. A good friend will not interrupt your tears, and will listen to you as you repeat over and over again the story of your loss as this is a part of one’s bereavement process.
After you’ve begun to venture out and make connections with men and women, whom you have things in common with and whose company you enjoy, you will begin to heal.
Then grab your girls (guys) and go-wherever, whenever, as you follow the path to your new life and your new beginning.

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Ten Years Later A Tree Still Grows

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It’s been 10 years since my husband Chuck passed away. Clarence C. Loftin III was a brilliant, hard-working, tough, matter-of-fact, gentle soul. He was a venture capitalist, adjunct professor in finance, 5th grade science teacher, Marine Biology educator as well as a wonderful brother, son, stepfather and husband. Those memories of him will never be erased.

Chuck was the Yang to my Ying. Over time, I’ve come to know that it is his untimely death that spurred me on in a new direction, putting me on a different path of counseling and helping other widows and widowers to heal after loss.

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Every person who has come into my life in these past 10 years, and has taken the time to stay a while, no matter how brief, has helped me to heal. And every person who has guided me through the thicket of sorrowful thorns has been God sent, and that is what I believe.Image may contain: 4 people

My journey to recovery was long, slow and very tough. Sometimes it felt like sheer torture and there were times when I thought I would not survive my circumstance, but eventually the pain did subside. After much thought I realized that there had to have been many other people who lose a spouse and aren’t able to express or figure out what they’re going through. Unfortunately, in our society death and loss as well as the aftermath of loss are not topics that are easily spoken about. The well-meaning folks around widows and widowers often do not understand another person’s grief experience and want to see them get over it. Sometimes those who are the victims of a loss want to see themselves get over it quickly. When they don’t, they’re in a quandary as to what to do or where to turn.

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With Sister Cathy

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At a friend’s gathering in the late 80’s

 

There are many who lose a spouse and are able to get past it and move on with their lives in short order, while still, there are others who literally take years to figure out how to manage the pain and to rebuild their lives. I figured out early on that the latter are the very people who need extra support, because death, loss, grief, and recovery are not part of a competition. One should not have to measure one’s ability to recover from a loss against others who may’ve seemed to have recovered more readily. I felt that it was incumbent upon me to at least begin the conversation about what it is that one feels after they have lost a spouse and to offer suggestions on how they can get through the grieving process and begin to rebuild their lives.

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Speech on behalf of the Central Park Conservancy

This opportunity to be able to assist others with their grief would not have been possible had I not had Chuck Loftin in my life. It was the very experience of losing him that opened the door of opportunity for me to do something that would help others. I hoped that I would be able to make a difference as I sought to help widows and widowers navigate the anger, confusion, and despair that I knew that they were feeling after losing a spouse. I also wanted to give comfort, encouragement and assurance and let them know that what they were feeling was normal. They also needed to hear that in time, with work and perseverance, they would be able to step into their “new beginning”.

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It is in this pic that I noticed something different in the summer of ’07

 

I believe that this is the legacy that my husband bestowed upon me. My tragedy became my testimony as I wrote Brave in a New World: A Guide to Grieving the Loss of a Spouse and I became The Brave and Blooming Widow.

My work at Matthew 5:4, which is a grief support group here in New York, founded by the Rev. Deborah Northern, has supported and validated the work of affirming those who’ve lost a spouse. She, along with Bob Ellison, author of First Snow and myself are guiding widows and widowers along their grief journey and beyond.

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Chuck and my Dad-Buddies especially after Chuck’s dad passed.

This is the last year that I will post on my personal page a piece honoring my husband on his anniversary. For me the past 10 years have been the most transformative of my life. I have literally been reborn and am living my new life with joy, enthusiasm and the knowledge that there is life after death. I have made new friends, traveled hither and yon, and received so much love from so many. I feel a great satisfaction knowing that my little book is helping others. And as fate would have it, I have met a wonderful man and we’re having a great time together.  This is proof that love is never ending once you are able to put the past behind you and walk fearlessly into your future.

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Gentleman and a Scholar

I no longer wish that Chuck could experience this event or that special occasion with me as I once did early on. I know he’s gone from this plane for good. I also  know that only through, perseverance, determination and consistent work, plus the willingness to face the pain of loss and not act like it doesn’t exist, will new opportunities and experiences present themselves, helping to turn everyone’s tragedy into their testimony.

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At Monticello in Charlottesville,Va.

There will always be a part of me that misses my Chuck, but now it is not attached to the pain of the past, but is instead a healthy memory and a sense of how lucky I was to have had him in my life for a time.I believe that he was destined to meet a girl who grew up in Brooklyn “with a tree”, with whom he’d live out a time in space, and in the end , when he was no longer here, she would go on to create a living legacy that would give back to those who grieve after loss, in his honor.

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A sweet time in Southampton,NY

To have had this opportunity, to have been entrusted by God with Chuck’s care was what I consider to have been my sacred responsibility. And when he soared away to heaven January 24, 2009, I had no idea what awaited me as I stared with a wilted and broken heart at the casket of my beloved. I was blessed and honored to have had such an individual in my life and, as my work takes me now in a different direction, I will continue to honor that legacy as the Brave and Blooming Widow giving guidance and support to those who lose but have a deep desire to win.

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The Dead-Are They Really?

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It was a very long time before I was able to use my husband Chuck’s name and the word dead in the same sentence. I rarely do even now, nine years in.
After he passed away, my mind couldn’t  process the fact that this was a permanent departure. It seemed as though he had just vanished, disappeared out of his body, and in some part of my brain I imagined that he might return.

I was not familiar with what death looked like up close and personal.When I saw my husband’s lifeless body I wasn’t sure where he had gone or what had just occurred. So I waited for his return and didn’t want to jinx the possibility of that occurring by saying the word dead. I chose to think he’d just vanished, which on some level opened up the possibility that he could come back again. That was the beginning of my grief journey. It was a ball of confusion, a world that I misunderstood as I entered a realm of uncharted waters laden with electrified barbed wire.

Months before my husband had died, a colleague of mine passed away suddenly also, coincidentally, from pancreatic cancer. I attended the memorial and as I was leaving and standing in the elevator with one of her four children, I expressed my sympathy, and he responded with, “We’re just trying to figure out what happened here.” At that time, I thought I knew what he meant. A few days earlier his mom had been alive and breathing and now she was gone without a trace, nowhere to be found. My husband was still alive so even though I thought I understood what my friend’s son meant, I actually didn’t grasp the full gravity of his situation until I was left to grapple with my own loss 10 months later.

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I would eventually come to know that part of my not being able to use Chuck’s name in the same sentence as dead was out of my reluctance to come to grips with the finality of his life. If I didn’t say that word, I thought, then it wasn’t really true. Chuck wasn’t dead, his spirit had just left his body, which I saw as his earthly costume, and maybe he was still hovering near. So it was better for me to think that Chuck had just vanished into thin air, therefore he hadn’t really died, he had just disappeared. I even began to think, in the altered state that I was in, that he could possibly “come back” and that I would be here waiting for him. It was an odd sensation that coincided with this silent gap between when he was alive and after he had died. I had feelings of fear, anxiety, and trepidation along with a sense of expectation as I wondered what would happen next. I almost felt suspended in space and time surrounded by an air of expectancy. I began to understand what my friend’s son had meant, as you’re not quite sure how to make sense of having a living breathing loved one alive and then gone, in a flash, just like that.

What was I expecting exactly?

My friends tried to understand as they offered condolences, but it’s hard to understand an experience that you’ve never had. Plus, so many people grieve so differently that my reaction might have been seen as over the top. I know that people felt,”Chuck has died, but you’ll get over it.” And of course if you mentioned that you thought your spouse was not really dead understandably people would believe that you were experiencing a serious case of denial. But it wasn’t that at all; I found that there is a sacred period,a space between life and death, which is accompanied by silence. This interval leaves the person that is left in a numb netherworld, trying to figure out exactly what has just occurred.

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What should happen next?

At the time of my husband’s passing I actually did not know. I was clinging to Chuck’s life hoping for his return. Thus, I wasn’t ready to acknowledge that he was gone forever as that seemed unfathomable to me.

I began to think that I was probably the only one who felt this way, but I soon came to the realization that I was not alone. In my bereavement group there were several individuals who chose not to use the harsh word dead. They used gentler euphemisms like “she left, went away, disappeared, vanished, he’s not here anymore.” These people, just like me, felt that once the word dead was used, that all hope was lost and they would then be faced with the reality that their spouses were indeed gone forever, never to be seen again. This was a bitter reality for most to face, particularly at the beginning of loss.

 

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I am happy to inform all that time eases the burden of grief and only those who have been through losing a spouse can attest to that. There is no space between love and time. Love is ever present as is time and they’re both intangible, existing without permission, forever. That sacred space between love and death is immeasurable. During that time that’s when the world that we once knew shifts and one must adjust to the unknown, wending one’s way into a world caught between life and death. It’s a new realm entered, to know and believe someone is dead. It becomes one’s haunting theme that hangs over those who grieve.

And until they’re able, it’s alright to posture loss into palatable, gentler terms. He’s just gone; she’s just disappeared; he’s not here anymore. Passage of time and what is done with that time along one’s grief journey will inform one as to how how they’re able to come to terms with the death of a spouse. Friends should not attempt to shatter that belief as the bereaved are fragile and need to be able to process their loss in their on way. One day they may hear themselves say,”He’s/she’s dead”, and by then hopefully they will have made peace with it, in their own time and on their own terms.

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To find out more about how you can heal after loss read Brave in a New World:A Guide to Grieving the Loss of a Spouse available on Amazon http://tinyurl.com/jnjs5

Cry,Cry,Cry-Grieve,Grieve,Grieve

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There is no escaping the unforgiving, relentless pain of grief. After we lose a spouse, the shock and awe of it all is just like being hit with a cast iron frying pan. Whack!! Suddenly we’re transported into a realm of unremitting pain and sorrow. We can hardly speak, read, walk or talk. To everyone else we may seem “just fine”, but we, in our own bodies, are grappling with what has just taken place in our lives. We’re trying to figure out how we’re going to figure it out.
No one knows these feelings more than those who have lost a spouse. No one! A divorce is not the same, a separation, none of these heartbreaking life experiences are equal to the loss by death of a spouse……..period.

Because of the pain involved in the grief experience, why would one want to grieve? Why not become busy and push the grief away until it’s gone? Here’s an answer: the pain of grief never goes away unless it is dealt with, head-on.
I have watched individuals shoulder the burden of the pain of their loss in many ways. Stiff upper lip, ignoring it, acting like they “got this”, becoming so busy that idle time can be a trigger as it may bring up feelings that make one feel so uncomfortable that covering them up with busyness, or some other unhealthy dependency, becomes the only way to endure a “new normal”.
If we continue to avoid the pain, it will linger in the ether. The danger of that is, because everything has energy, the energy from unresolved grief will seep into one’s very being, body, soul, heart. It will find a resting place and quietly demand to be dealt with at a future time. The insistence will be indiscernible in the beginning, but the longer one avoids dealing with the pain, the greater the consequences in the end.

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Many, who have small children lose spouses and find themselves not being able to take the time to deal with the pain from the loss. They’re trying to figure out their next move  so self-preservation mode kicks in and the focus becomes on practical things: money, home, childcare, schools, living quarters (if there’s a move that might have to happen), jobs and so on.
How do these individuals deal with the pain of the loss of a spouse? Often they don’t feel they have the luxury of time to do so as everyone else’s needs must be met. But a good thing to remember is that children have already lost a parent and they are afraid they could lose the one remaining  So it’s imperative that parents who become widowed carve out time for themselves to deal with the pain of their loss. A few minutes  before bed, or early in the morning, or in the bath or shower, are a few suggestions as to when one might have a bit of private time to reflect and grieve. If they can join a grief group, this will be a great source of comfort and support for those who are grieving. Also a pastor or a friend who is a good uninterrupting listener, you won’t have many, will help to ease the pain.

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A few months after my husband passed away, I was seeing an acupuncturist in Manhattan. When he left me alone after the needles were inserted, tears would fall from my eyes like water. When I think back on that time I remember being certain that this was my “new normal”. I knew I would never ever get over my loss.One afternoon after a session, I told Dr. Lee that I’d wept so much. He told me to, “cry cry cry, weep, weep, weep. Rent a movie that makes me cry and watch it over and over and over again. Get the tears out, do not hold it in”. Then he added that when he was about to take his med boards (he was also practicing physician) his fiance was killed in a horrific car crash. He said he couldn’t bear the pain and just stepped away from it so that he could continue on with his life. In essence, he never grieved. He explained to me that here he was 25 years later and he was beginning to experience the repercussions of that decision to stuff his feelings away. I understood what he was talking about although I didn’t understand what he was referring to in terms of himself. He then told me that because he never dealt with the loss he was now having to deal with it big time.
My next appointment came along and when I went to his office, I was told that Dr. Lee was no longer seeing patients. He was closing down his practice because he’d been diagnosed with a brain tumor. I of course was saddened to hear this as his work with me had helped me regain my emotional well-being as well as my physical health. Since then, I’ve come to understand the importance of his advice and how his message of “don’t hold it in, get it out”, was critical to my own recovery from grief and being able to begin a new life without carrying underlying unresolved issues from my loss.

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Unless the grief that we experience is dealt with along with unresolved , anger, guilt, hurts and all other unsettling emotional issues from our past, they will follow us forever. Unresolved grief will pop up again and again and force one to deal with it, and the longer we wait…sometimes the ramifications may be life-threatening.
I also knew that my time with this good doctor was done, and it was time for me to move to the next level of my healing. My bereavement group was the next level, a group of people who allowed me to express myself and cry without judgment or criticism. They were an amazing, thoughtful, interesting, eclectic group who were put in my path to support me on my journey. And I was there to support them.
There are many grief communities out there, online and in our local communities where we live that are available to assist those who’ve lost a spouse. Many churches, synagogues, hospitals and organizations have support systems for those who grieve.
But in the end it is up to us, we must have the desire to have balance back in our  lives and we must want to lessen the burden of grief. Sometimes the pain becomes such a comfort that if we let go of it, we won’t know what to do with ourselves. But actually, if we let go of the pain of  grief we will be able to see a light at the end of the tunnel and begin to rebuild our lives bit by bit.

The first step to letting it out is by letting it out. Cry daily, purge the pain and sorrow. Babies cry when they’re uncomfortable, in pain, want attention…and they get their parents’ attention. Tears are a human mechanism that allow us to release pain. Emotional tears actually have protein-based hormones which are a natural painkiller that is released when we are stressed. Suffering is for martyrs and we do not want to live a life of martyrdom after we lose a spouse.

Stiff upper lip does not strengthen you it just makes you brittle. We want to get back into the natural world and experience every bit of life while we have the chance with new found joy and love. Immersing oneself in grief, particularly at the beginning of one’s loss, will lead to a fresh start at the end of that dark tunnel.

 

To find out more about how you can heal after loss read Brave in a New World:A Guide to Grieving the Loss of a Spouse available on Amazon https://tinyurl.com/jnjs5fu

Anniversaries: Making Progress

Exiting St.Paul’s Chapel to resounding applause.

Chuck and I were married on June 22, 1991. It was a rainy overcast day but I was determined to not let anything put a damper on my wedding day. Everything happened like a dream. Sitting in the limo on the Columbia University campus listening to Bach, while waiting for the signal to walk across the campus to St. Paul’s Chapel. I remember feeling very regal, secure and exquisitely happy as the rain fell on the windows of the limo.I was sitting in my beautiful wedding gown, and at some point waving at my girls, Lynn and Brenda, who ran through the raindrops to send me best wishes their reassuring faces let me know that they were there for me that day. They are still my forever friends. I recall sitting in a dressing room at the church with my sister who was just stunning as my matron of honor. The gracious Rev. Harger, at that time associate pastor of my father’s church, Canaan Baptist, who officiated my wedding, came into the room and was astonished at how much my sister and I resembled each other.

Chuck waiting as I entered the Chapel

I recall my cousin Bruce telling me to “smile girl” as I was exiting the church with my new husband, hand in hand. Everyone laughed, all 250 guests, and clapped so loudly that I’m sure the angels in heaven sang that day. That evening, after the fun reception, we had planned to stay at the newly opened Paramount Hotel in Manhattan for a few days. A planned trip to the Bahamas would happen in August. On our way to the hotel we stopped by my parents’ apartment and when they opened the door, guests from the wedding. who were still celebrating at their house, stood and applauded us. My friend Patricia LaPLante was in from Paris and she was among those who greeted us as was my childhood friend Sherry and her mom (may she rest in peace) who was like an aunt to me.

Our beautiful prenuptial event in Hastings on Hudson,N.Y.

It was surely a momentous time filled with love, happiness and hope as Chuck and I began our new life together along with my son Karim, who loved Chuck and Chuck loved back with all his heart. I was never more happier and I never felt more loved.

Never happier, never felt more loved.

Many years later after Chuck had passed away, each impending anniversary without Chuck was very, very painful for me. I would be aware of the approaching day and would plan how I would spend it or get through it. For many years Chuck and I had spent our anniversary celebrating with friends Jane and George and/or JoAnn and Michael. Both couples had married the same year Chuck and I had, only a few weeks apart. We had such fun together marking each anniversary as the years swiftly passed. Chuck and I had been married 17 1/2 years by the time he had passed away in 2009. After Chuck’s death and as I remembered our special day each year, I would be filled with anxiety as I planned a special way to mark the occasion.

Some years I visited the cemetery and some years I tried not to think about it just to make it through the day. In the very beginning the pain from the loss cut deeply. Our wedding anniversary, having been the most significant event that Chuck and I shared, now found me suffering through the day alone year after year.

Thus, it was surprising that in this year, which would have been our 27th year of marriage, I missed the day altogether. It was 3 to 4 days before I realized what had occured. As I scrambled  to gather pictures to create a little tribute on Facebook or Instagram I decided to write down my thoughts instead. I was suddenly hit with the idea that I was no longer under grief’s veil. I actually haven’t been under the veil of grief for quite some time, but to have totally missed our anniversary caught me by surprise. I thought back on my journey through the initial days of grief and loss and I realized that that immeasurable pain and sorrow no longer followed me wherever I went. I now live life without overlapping my past with my present life and current relationship. Honestly, I never thought I would see the day that my anniversary would slip by without my noticing.


My story of grief, loss and recovery has become my triumphant testimony as I continue to live this life, happy again. When we lose a spouse, we feel that we will never be the same and we won’t. We are not meant to be. The initial pain is unforgiving and relentless and follows us like a shadow. We’re sure that this is our forever normal, and oftentimes, many people prefer to stay in that place for fear of betraying their lost loved one or perhaps because they have no idea how to rebuild a life without their life partner. Many widows and widowers never think of looking for love again, as they’ve already lost their ONE, and no one can ever measure up to the iconic figure they have created a shrine to in their minds and hearts. Painful feelings of loss may linger for years and years as each momentous occasion passes without their spouse’s presence; this is all normal and expected.

Part of my wedding party.That was a time.

But life has a way of helping us to heal, subtly and slowly, until one day we cannot believe the time that has passed and we’re finally feeling better as we see the light at the end of the tunnel. It is important that we make sure that we put effort into seeking support and advice as we grieve and that we also actively rebuild our lives so that we can live in the new world that has been thrust upon us. All who grieve will one day notice that the pain is diminishing and that the anxiety we once felt as the first, second or sixth anniversary, Christmas or Thanksgiving and other occasions are celebrated, take on a different feel. We’re able to handle our emotions better and we will be able to recall, without anxiety, the memories that remain. This is not a betrayal but a healthy sign of progress being made.

I know that I have overcome a huge hurdle as time passed and the acute pain lessened, which allowed me to experience life anew. We must continue to work hard toward getting through our grief. For those of us who have been on a grief journey we understand that it is the brightest stars, once we are able to see them, that will reflect light onto all who have lost a spouse, allowing us to feel whole and revel in the progress that we have made.This is what I call our Reawakening.

The darkest nights reflect the brightest stars.” Rumi

Mommy and I during an extraordinary time in my life as I wed my beloved

                       

To find out more about how you can heal after loss read Brave in a New World:A Guide to Grieving the Loss of a Spouse available on Amazon http://tinyurl.com/jnjs5fu

Stories of Hope and Renewal -Bob Ellison

This week’s blog is written by author Bob Ellison.Our story is one of loss, hope, love found, friendship, voyages and synchronicity. Unfortunately in the first picture I’d  had a bad hair day….LOL
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Jerry-Yvonne-Bob-DebbieI love this photo! Debbie and I are the couple on the right, and Jerry and Yvonne are the couple on the left. The real story, however, is the couple in the middle. That’s Yvonne Broady, author of Brave in a New World: A Guide to Grieving the Loss of a Spouse, and me, Bob Ellison, author of The First Snow: A Journal about a Man’s Faith-based Journey through Grief. The occasion is our first face-to-face meeting after knowing each other for three years via long distance through emails, Facebook, and then via Skype (with me in Washington state and Yvonne in New York), as we co-facilitate a grief and comfort group, Matthew 5:4, hosted by the Reverend Debra Northern of The Riverside Church of New York since May 2016.Bob's & Yvonne's Books

We both lost our spouses to cancer, she in January of 2009, and me in November of 2010. We both turned to writing as a form of healing from our losses. In Yvonne’s book, she writes about her grief experiences to help others know what to expect on their grieving journeys as they try to recreate a new and vastly different life without their spouse. My book is a journal…a diary…I kept as my wife’s primary caregiver after she was placed in hospice care at our home. I originally began the journal so our sons could see how much we loved each other, how I cared for their mother, and so they would also know us as people, not just as Mom and Dad. The journal also shows how I began to grieve for the loss of my wife before she passed away, as her brain tumors eroded her motor skills and memories, how I was losing her more every day, and how desperate I was for a miracle that never happened. I also put those feelings into emails to our friends because they wanted me to keep them updated on Lou’s deteriorating condition. I kept writing, both in the journal and emails to our friends, through her memorial service in December, and then made a conscious decision to end my journal on New Year’s Eve of 2010.

We both attended bereavement groups in our respective cities, and we both sought to receive solace through our writings, first by ‘getting it down on paper’ to get it out, and then by “passing it forward,” by sharing our experiences as we traveled the path through the pains of our losses and the overwhelming grief. Though I had not written much before, I became somewhat adept at putting my feelings of loss into emails that found their way farther across the United States than I would have dreamed. The responses I received from former high school classmates and from people with whom my wife and I used to work were gratifying because many told me they had no idea how their surviving parents felt after they lost their spouses. My emails had described the pain, the longing, and the loneliness they realized their surviving parents must have felt. Some told me my emails changed the way they saw and treated their fathers or mothers because they were now aware of what they had gone through. I kept all of their emails out of gratitude because they took the time to write back to me.

It was some time, though, before I began considering assembling and publishing my journal because I was still grieving. When I was my wife’s caregiver, I was getting about four hours of sleep every night. After she passed away, and even through my bereavement group sessions that began nine weeks later, I was still getting four hours of sleep every night no matter what time I went to bed. Every night I prayed to God that I would die in my sleep to simply end the pain of her loss. About three weeks into those group sessions, I almost got my wish because of a severe hypoglycemic event one night that awakened me. I knew this was my ticket out. I could let my blood-sugar level fall farther until I lapsed into a diabetic coma, but for whatever reason, I got up and made it to the kitchen to get something to eat. As I sat in my dark living room recovering, I realized that I wanted to live just a little more than I wanted to die…and I wanted to live for me. Though I never again prayed that I would die in my sleep, it took some months before I was comfortable enough to go anywhere except to my bereavement group sessions or grocery shopping.

As a result of my bereavement group sessions and the group leaders who encouraged us to keep a journal, I began to incorporate the emails I sent to friends and their email responses into my journal. I wanted to show our sons how much their mother and stepmother meant to our friends, and to me. I also began to venture out more. I was getting used to being alone, I was getting to know myself better, and I was becoming more self-confident. I was beginning to feel better, to sleep better and longer, and I was beginning to have good memories of our life together. I was beginning to remember her as she would have wanted. I began to appreciate being alive. Though I had ended my journal on New Year’s Eve of 2010, I continued to write a series of “Random Thoughts” and post them on Facebook as most of whatever thoughts I had were totally random, and I continued to send and receive emails from friends. The writing helped me to vent, to continue to put my feelings into print, and to let people know what I was thinking and how I was coping. Several of my friends, including some church members, urged me to save all my emails and put them into a book because it would help people understand they weren’t alone in the way they felt after losing a spouse. They said I had managed to put their emotions into words, and they thanked me. They told me I could help so many people. They were the ones who really planted the seeds for me to get my journal published.

I’ve written about this before, but during this time I also remembered one conversation my wife and I had before the brain tumors began to steal her memories and motor skills, a conversation I didn’t want to hear at the time. She told me that if she died, she wanted me to find someone new and love them the way I loved her because I had too much love left in me to go to waste. For a while, I felt guilty for remembering that conversation, but by the end of April, just over five months after she passed away, I posted a short bio on some dating websites explaining I was a recent widower and wanted no more than coffee and light conversation. Most of my outings were a “one-and-done” thing, and some of them didn’t end well because I found out several ladies had time lines and agendas for finding a man. I was not that guy.

Within the next four months, I had dropped off all but one of the dating websites, taken two two-week vacations including the California vacation that Lou and I had planned to visit her niece, nephews, and oldest sister just before she was diagnosed with brain tumors, and a vacation to Montana for her (and now my…) family reunion, a trip to Glacier National Park, and then down the east side of Lake Coeur D’Alene on the way home. Between the two vacations I took just two weeks apart, I had driven about 4,000 DSCN8834 - Copymiles, I had been to places I’d never been before to see things I’d never seen and had taken over 2,500 photographs. I had even played my guitar and sang in an impromptu one-man ‘show’ at a hotel in Cottage Grove, Oregon one evening at the request of the hotel staff, as well as sat alone on the shore of Flathead Lake in Montana one evening and played my guitar and sang to the moon. I missed Lou so much, but I felt whole again and renewed. I also felt that she was with me on my travels, watching me grow and heal emotionally and getting used to being without her. Toward the end of that four-month period, I had begun cleaning out my house. It was nine months since Lou had passed away. During this time, too, Debbie and I were falling in love.

Since I wasn’t traveling anymore, I had more time to assemble my emails and their responses and incorporate them into my journal. On a whim, I went online and found a Christian publisher and contacted them out of curiosity about what it would take to find out if my journal was worth publishing. I was asked to send my manuscript to them for review, so I did. Less than a week later, they called me and signed me up. Over the next three months, did some editing, I added a Forward, an Afterward that included a couple of my Facebook “Random Thoughts” and included responses, provided photos for the front and back covers, developed a title, a short biography, some information about “the author,” and why I wrote my journal the way I did.

You see, in all my readings, in all my efforts to find out how men grieved, I found nothing written about the depths of emotion that a man could experience…that I had experienced. Everything I read was so clinical, so ‘proper,’ such as: You may have feelings of anger, at God or at your spouse for leaving you, feelings of loneliness, abandonment, guilt or despair. These feelings are normal. As it states on the back cover of my book under A Note About the Author: Bob Ellison is new to writing but felt compelled to put his words and feelings on paper, because in all the readings he found n grief, he found nothing that showed the emotion men felt when they lost their wives to death. It was all so clinical. This is not. This explains how and why my book…my journal…was written and published. I did read one criticism of my book, and it mentioned that it got a bit repetitious. Yes, I must agree that it was, but that’s what happened when I became my wife’s primary caregiver and watched her die a little every day. After all, it’s a journal…a diary, and caring for a person…my spouse…during her final days was very repetitious. I wasn’t spinning an action-packed story, I simply wrote it the way it was.

As I understood it, Yvonne had become curious as to how men felt when they grieved because not much was ever written about how we really felt when we lost our spouses. I think my journal may have changed that. Because of this, Yvonne contacted me through my publisher, and we began to email each other. Over a period of a few months, we became like brother and sister on our grief and healing journeys. We both wrote blogs (and still do) so others may know that the struggles, the loneliness, the pain, and that life, in general, can get better with time. We try show them the small realizations that they are beginning to cope with a new and very different life, that they are slowly growing and healing, that they are becoming, and can be, whole people once again, and that there is hope they can be happy again.

Matthew 5-4 Group PhotoThen, in early 2016, she asked me if I would consider helping her co facilitate a grief and comfort group hosted by The Reverend Debra Northern of The Riverside Church of New York. They would set up a meeting room, and I would Skype in once a week, every Tuesday at 5:00pm EDT. I accepted, and we began meeting in May of 2016. Debra, Yvonne and I wanted to make that room, that meeting, a safe place for them emotionally. We wanted them to know that there was no right way or wrong way to grieve, there was just grief. We also wanted them to know that there was no time limit to grief, that it was their grief and it was going to take as long as it took. For over a year we met every week at the same time. We shared our stories, our grief, our tears, our setbacks, our little victories, and our hopes. Around August or September of 2017, we began to meet every two weeks.

At first it was difficult because the meeting had become an emotional ‘safety net’ for everyone, a Safe Room where they could share their hardships, their health issues, their lives. We had all bonded because we had one huge thing in common…we had all lost our spouses, and they felt comfortable with each other and with us. It was a struggle for some because they had to wait two weeks between meetings, but soon they were getting used to it. I continued to Skype in every two weeks from Washington state, and they began to meet socially for lunches and dinners during the “off” week. That helped ease the ‘withdrawal’ from the meetings. After a couple of months, I could tell by our conversations they were beginning to heal.

During our meetings, there were times we discussed individual’s travel plans, weekend getaways, and vacations, and sometimes the talk was about when were they going to get to meet me in person. Truthfully, I had begun to think about it after the first year, but my Debbie was still working. Occasionally, Debbie would ask me if I thought about it, and I would say yes, but she was still working, and I wanted her to be able to come with me. To make a long story shorter, she had decided that she was going to retire in 2018 and worked it out with her boss that she would retire around February 1. Little did I know that she began to plan our trip to New York for my birthday in April. It was because of her that we went. When she told me about it, we both began to plan the trip and I finally told the group that Debbie and I were coming to New York to meet them and to do a bit of sight-seeing in the city. I couldn’t believe how excited they got. I know I was! We decided that we were going April 11th through the 18th, and I’d be celebrating my birthday in New York!

Yvonne planned a welcome dinner for us on Thursday evening, we would all meet again Sunday for lunch at the Landmarc Restaurant at the Time-Warner Building on Columbus Circle, Debra would guide us on a tour of The Riverside Church Tuesday afternoon, and Cecelia planned a dinner meeting for us at her home on Tuesday evening, April 17. The rest of the time was ours to see some of the sights of New York. We had booked a flight out of Sea-Tac Airport at 6:30 a.m. on Wednesday the 11th, so we spent Monday doing laundry and trying to figure out what to pack. On Tuesday, we finally finished packing around midnight and went to bed for two-and-a-half hours before getting up at 2:30 a.m. Wednesday, having a cup of coffee and tea, getting dressed, and heading for the airport parking and shuttle. We arrived in New York around 5:30 p.m. after a two-hour layover in Detroit and checked into our apartment in the Murray Hill area. That night, we walked around Murray Hill, saw the Empire State Building lit up, and found a take-out Chinese food restaurant with excellent food about five blocks from our apartment.

Thursday morning, after we walked to Times Square and got our hop-on/hop-off tour bus tickets and tickets for the Empire State Building tour, and after taking a lot of photos, we walked back to our apartment and got ready to meet the group. That evening, April 12 at 7:00 p.m., we all finally got to meet face-to-face at Yvonne’s home in New York. For the first time, I got to hug them all, and introduce them to Debbie. There were tears of joy all 20180417_195210around, laughter, and disbelief that we were finally meeting face-to-face. Debbie and I got to meet Yvonne’s son and mother, too! It was a most special evening, filled with welcome, with joy, with more laughter, with more hugs, good food, and with love. The time flew by too quickly, but it was so good to be able to finally see everyone in person and see what beautiful people they all are and, at long last, to talk with them all face-to-face. It was such a gift to see them, especially my dear sister, Yvonne, who opened her home and her heart to us.

Debbie and I spent Friday taking the Hop-on/Hop-off Bus Tour, with seats on the open-air upper deck, through the downtown/Times Square area and then south to Battery Park for a glimpse of the Statue of Liberty through the trees along the shoreline before turning north and dropping us off near the United Nations Headquarters. Saturday, we took the walking tour of Central Park followed by another bus tour that headed north past Columbia University, through Harlem, around the northern border of Central Park, then down the east side of the park along the “Museum Mile” to Times Square. We walked back to our apartment from there. I’ll write about our New York sights and impressions in a later blog. I will say, though, that the bus tours around Manhattan give one a better overview of the area, complete with a running commentary of the area’s history. The tours are worth taking.

20180415_162332Sunday, we all met for Lunch at The Landmarc Restaurant at the Time-Warner Building on Columbia Circle. It was another special day, sitting in the restaurant and talking around a large, round table, sharing stories, sharing and acknowledging the progress and growth all had realized since their first meeting with the group. The food was good, but the company and camaraderie were even better. All too soon, we said our good-byes and went our separate ways. We would meet again on Tuesday at Cecelia’s home for a dinner and our meeting.

On Monday, Debbie and I walked to the Empire State Building and went to the 86th floor observation deck to view the city. It was a bit hazy but did not disappoint. The views were incredible! After that, we walked to Grand Central Station. That, too, did not disappoint. It was even more grand than what I saw in the movies that were filmed there. Again, more about this in a later blog.

20180417_160200.jpgOn Tuesday afternoon, we met Debra at The Riverside20180417_161610 Church. It is one of the most impressive and detailed cathedrals I’ve ever seen, and its history is just as impressive. It was patterned after the cathedral at Chartres in France. But I must admit I looked forward to seeing Debra’s office because that is where the Matthew 5:4 meetings are held every other Tuesday. I got to see the table where everyone sits, and I got20180417_161644 to see the ‘big screen’ at the other end of the table where I ‘sit.’ Debra is an amazing lady, and I am thankful that she hosts this group. She is thoughtful, kind, and compassionate, and I don’t think there could be a better person to help guide those who have lost a spouse than she. I am grateful and honored to be part of this ministry. I had Debbie take a photo of me standing in front of 20180417_161905the TV to show everyone that I was “out of the box” for once.

After we finished, Debra drove us to Cecelia’s for dinner and our meeting. Cecelia has a wonderful view of the Hudson River and the George Washington Bridge from her apartment. New Jersey is just across the river from her home. I had a chance to meet her daughter and her grandson and talk with them. Cecelia showed me some of her husband’s photographs and photographic equipment, and we had a chance to talk a bit more. She is a warm and beautiful lady, and I’m honored to have met her. We had a wonderful dinner that included a birthday cake for me, and I got a chance to talk with Sammie, John, Charlene, Debra, Yvonne D (yes, there are two Yvonnes!), and her daughter, Missy. I also talked with Jerry briefly, but not long enough. He’s a good man and I’m so happy that he and Yvonne have found each other.

There are many stories here, but they are all linked by a single event: the loss of a spouse. All of us began with crushed hearts and felt as though we carried the burden of grief for the world when our spouses passed away. We did…our worlds, as we knew them, had ended. Both Yvonne and I had a head start because our spouses passed away in 2009 and 2010. With the help of our respective bereavement groups and our writing, we were gradually able to accept our grief, survive through the unending cycle of our pain and longing until, one day, we realized it wasn’t as intense as it once was. One day, we smiled at a remembrance instead of bursting into tears of pain, longing, and regret. One day, it all got just a little better and we became a little stronger, and we realized it. One day we ventured out and felt as though we no longer wore the “Big W” (Widow, Widower) because we realized others just saw us as ‘regular’ people. Yes, we still had our bad days, but they became fewer until one day, we began to give thanks for every day we awoke, even the occasional bad day. Did we do this in the same time frame? Probably not. Grief is an individual thing, so personal it depends only on the singular person who is grieving. There is no time limit as to how long one grieves. There is also no right or wrong way to grieve because it is simply grief.

Grief Spiral with commentsGrief has been broken down into various cycles of emotions so it can be explained, as in “The Grief Spiral” diagram here. It is true that all of these feelings occur, and the diagram presents an oversimplified outline of the process. However, the grief process is never so orderly as any diagram, as Ginny Tesik, MA explains. It’s more like a messy scribble that covers an entire page. Any one, any combination, or all of those emotions can happen at any given moment, including such inopportune times and in no particular order throughout the grieving period, even to that day one awakens and realizes that most of those emotions have eased. One emotion has been omitted, I believe, and that emotion is sadness. To me, its connotation is different than despair, depression and resignation. Though it probably contains some resignation, to me it’s closer to a remembrance of what no longer is, and never will be again. If dwelled upon, it certainly can bring depression and even anger again. But for me, it didn’t. I didn’t let it. I let the memories of better times in, and that helped me realize I wanted to be happy again as my own person. None of this is easy. It took me nine months to reach that point. For some, it takes longer. Sometimes it takes a year or two…or more. For a few it will never happen, but I believe that becomes a choice as time passes.

I believe that every person in Matthew 5:4 that I met and talked with has made more progress than they realize. I believe that they are all stronger than they realize, and they are happier than they’ve been in a long time. Do they still have days where they feel lonely and sad? Yes, they probably do. Do they have more days where they feel they are whole people? Yes, I’m sure they do. Do they feel they’re stronger, that they are beginning to live their own lives now? Yes, I believe they do. I also believe that they have more of a relationship with God now than they may have had before, though they all have believed in Him for a long time. Will they find someone new to love? Some may, some may choose not to. That’s an individual thing, but it’s something that has happened to Yvonne and me. We have found new love, she with Jerry, me with Debbie, and we are delighted in the other’s happiness! She is, after all, my sister at heart, my dear friend, and I do love her. For that matter, I do feel that way about everyone in the group, as does Yvonne. They have become family to me, to us, and we love them all dearly and pray for their health, well-being and happiness.

We were all brought together because of great personal losses. Doors close, new doors open; a former way of life ends but is never forgotten, new and different lives begin with new and different friendships and new hopes for happiness. I have been blessed to have them all in my life. I hope they feel the same way.

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Post Script: Yes Bob, we all feel the same way too, especially me.
Yvonne Broady
You can read more of Bob’s work and follow him at: https://firstsnowbook.wordpress.com/

Stories of Hope and Renewal

The First Snow

Buckle up. . .this is a long one.

Jerry-Yvonne-Bob-DebbieI love this photo! Debbie and I are the couple on the right, and Jerry and Yvonne are the couple on the left. The real story, however, is the couple in the middle. That’s Yvonne Broady, author of Brave in a New World: A Guide to Grieving the Loss of a Spouse, and me, Bob Ellison, author of The First Snow: A Journal about a Man’s Faith-based Journey through Grief. The occasion is our first face-to-face meeting after knowing each other for three years via long distance through emails, Facebook, and then via Skype (with me in Washington state and Yvonne in New York), as we co-facilitate a grief and comfort group, Matthew 5:4, hosted by the Reverend Debra Northern of The Riverside Church of New York since May 2016.Bob's & Yvonne's Books

We both lost our spouses to cancer, she in…

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