New Year…New Beginnings

A New Beginning ecard, online card

This year, actually this month will be the thirteenth year since my husband Chuck passed away from pancreatic cancer. It seems like a long while ago and only moments all at the same time. Funny how after you lose a spouse the time morphs into an endless stream of time: night, day, day, night. Weeks seem like days, months seem like weeks and years seem like some yet to be determined series of stages stretched out into seamlessly stitched together moments that transcend years, turning time into a flowing succession of days, differentiated only by light and dark.

The year that Chuck passed away I recall that I was anxious about leaving that year behind. I knew that I’d never be able to “feel his presence” in the same way again. I wouldn’t be able to say that he just said this a few weeks before or that he’d just done that a few months earlier. Once I stepped into the new year I felt I would no longer feel his presence, just his absence.

There were so many things to get used to after the loss. I had to learn new ways of living without him on the planet. Minor routines such as the quantity of towels in the bathroom, setting the table, what to do with his drinking mug, going places alone were just some of the adjustments I needed to make. When it came to bouncing ideas off somebody or getting a second opinion or sharing something funny, I had to come to grips with his permanent absence and my sudden thrust into “oneness”.

But here is what also occurred as I entered a New Year, I was slowly leaving my past behind. Although I didn’t stop grieving, far from it, the new year, in retrospect, was the start of my new beginning. I was truly starting over again, from square one. During that period, I began to create new routines, develop new interests, revisit past interests, change my living space and take a good look at who I wanted to be. I decided that being me, my authentic me, was a good start and so I began to forge a new life rebuilding it brick by brick.

I examined old ideas, attitudes and lifestyles. I planned to retain some semblance of who I had been before Chuck, but I also explored fresher ways of being myself. It was a crash course in starting over and I was being taught by the world around me, which was moving faster than the speed of light. I was beginning to see everything with fresh eyes, an open mind, an open heart, and an open spirit. All of this was happening consciously and unconsciously as I grieved and continued to move my life forward.

As the years passed I could feel changes taking place within myself and in my life. I was different, my home was transformed, and I realized that I was in the midst of my new beginning.Image result for new beginnings

I knew, as I continued to mourn my husband’s death, that I didn’t want to get stuck in my grief or  “widow narrative” so, after a time, I allowed my new life to mold me. And although, in the beginning, I did not want to betray my lost husband by going on with my life, I came to understand that he was no longer here and he would never want me to spend the rest of my days mourning him. Chuck would want me to live a full life just as we did together, when he was here.

I sort of  relived that period after my husband’s death during this time of COVID. Because of the shutdown and the advice to stay at home in order to reduce the spread and contain the disease, as I sheltered in place, I was reminded of the early days after my loss. This time, however, I consciously worked on myself. Although I missed seeing people, for some reason feelings of loneliness and isolation were few and far between. I chose to take this time to do the things I had been putting off and to focus on personal goals, plans and basically the rest of my life. I knew I couldn’t maintain the discipline and the concentration I would need if I became distracted. I wanted to come out of this period ready for my new beginning as I knew that the world would never be the same after such a sudden change in routine. My period of mourning, back in 2009, prepared me for this time as I prepared to face whatever else would be expected of me. I gained new insights as I continued to live my life with expectation and humility. My humanity became renewed and my compassion for others became heightened. I became most grateful for my life’s experiences, the good and not so good, which I now know have strengthened me for the living of these days. I no longer have to talk about those things as they are what make me me, and I am grateful. I cherish my family even more as well as my friends. I lost friends all to non COVID related circumstances, and mourned each and every one. I know that the clock is ticking and it’s important to be good listeners, give those who need you your time, your actual presence. It’s important to send love to those you have in your life and to those you no longer want in your life or whom you’ve outgrown. Wish them all well, and then keep going.

Parting Ways (EP) | Payden Poore

My advice to all who are embarking on a new year of self-discovery and expansion is to treat the new year as your new beginning and an opportunity to live life differently. Discard those “obstructions” in your life that prevent you from making new friends, keeping friends, creating opportunities for new and fresh relationships, for chances to be adventurous, see new things and to take risks.

Looking for companionship? Well, stop telling yourself that the “pickins are thin“, because the Universe will give you that, thin pickins’. Stop listening to others’ perceptions when looking for a mate, learn to tweak  your criteria and your expectations as you might miss a soulmate who comes wrapped in a different packaging than you desired. Know that the interior matters so much more than the exterior. Like little 4 year old internet sensation Ayaan Diop think of yourself “as smart, blessed and highly favored” and repeat this and other affirmations that affirm the positivity of who you are and who you are becoming. You will always be becoming…and if you have positive expectations you will reap the benefits of those thoughts. Remember mind and body are all connected. But then, how could they not be? Decide to live and think differently and this applies to those who have experienced loss as well as anyone who would like to tweak his or her life in positive ways.

Don’t allow this new year to be another missed opportunity to make changes that improve the conditions of your life. Being busy with a variety of activities is a good start to activating your new way of living. But nothing can compare to time alone, without distractions, as you think about who you are becoming at this moment in time and how you want that the rest of your life to be. As long as we are able to fall asleep nightly and awaken to a new day, we’ll always be able to start over. Use this new year, in the time of this long pandemic, as a time to mark your new beginning. Become deeply introspective, no matter how uncomfortable that may feel. Think about what you’ve always wanted in life and what has prevented you from achieving that. It’s not really the material, but those intangible, non physical desires of the heart whose achievements are obstructed by deeply rooted personal  experiences. Everybody has them in their psyche library. Once excavated and made peace with you may once and for all be able to make the changes that will help you to feel fulfilled. It’s always about you, having an open heart, and eliminating obstructions, to your goals. So this year try excavating your soul’s soul, it may open up a new way of being, feeling whole, full of clarity and hopefulness again or possibly for the first time.

 

                      Happy New You                                      

                                               

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

Follow me on Instagram, The Blooming Widow: https://www.instagram.com/thebloomingwidow/

Like  my Facebook page:  https://www.facebook.com/YvonneBroadyAuthor 

Rising Through Resilience: Yvonne Broady On The Five Things You Can Do To Become More Resilient During Turbulent Times

“Find your voice and do not allow others to poke you as you heal from whatever circumstance you may find yourself in. Speak up, set boundaries as you let people know that you draw the line when it comes to what people can say and what they can’t. Stand up for yourself and tell people to stop when they say things to you that you find unacceptable.”

An Interview With Savio P. Clemente

As a part of this series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Yvonne Broady.

Yvonne Broady aka The Blooming Widow, is a former public-school educator turned author. Yvonne lost her husband to pancreatic cancer in 2009 and her experience with grief, loss and healing inspired her to write Brave in a New World: A Guide to Grieving the Loss of a Spouse. She blogs about her grief journey and shares comforting and helpful advice for those who have lost a spouse. Yvonne co-facilitates a healing grief group at the Riverside Church in New York City.

Thank you so much for joining us! Can you share with us the most interesting story from your career?

Mylife was unexpectedly interrupted when my husband and I learned of his diagnosis of Stage 4 pancreatic cancer back in 2007. After he passed away in Jan. 2009, I experienced deep sadness and anxiety and didn’t feel that I could cope or get past the grief. I also discovered that there weren’t any books that explained how one would feel as they grieved. Most of the books that I found were more clinical and general; there wasn’t anything to validate my feelings of anxiety, panic, and despair. I didn’t know anyone who had lost a spouse There wasn’t anyone who could advise me or corroborate the feelings I was having. After about a year and a half I decided to author a book that would assist others as they navigated their own grief journey. I wanted them to know that what they were going through was normal and that they were not alone.

Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?

During my long grieving process, people would offer words of sympathy but sometimes the things that they said stung instead of helped. They would wonder why I was still wearing my wedding rings, or why I was still mourning after only a few months had passed. One person wanted to know how it felt to be single again. I decided that I couldn’t be the only one having these intrusive, insensitive words flung at me after losing a spouse. Figuring out how to respond to painful words, when I was already in pain, was what I wanted to find an answer to. Eventually I found my voice and learned how to advocate for myself.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

My goal, when writing my book, was not only to share my experience in a way that was authentic and transparent, but also to give suggestions to widows on how to navigate their grief journey, find their voice, and move beyond the acute pain. Since the book was published, the response to my writing let me know that I’ve done just that. People have written to me and have stopped me on the street and told me how much the book has helped them. I wanted people to feel as though I was talking directly to them, and I believe that I’ve achieved that goal. I feel that my story has resonated with so many in a universal way. I wanted to let people know that they too, can get through the grieving process as they begin to pick up and rebuild their lives. They might even find their new lives are richer and better than before. During the process of grieving individuals may also find that they are being given new opportunities to turn their loss into something positive. With their resilient spirit, they may decide to give back to others in some way. This is what I did, turning my tragedy into my testimony. It is imperative, however, that they face their loss, lean into the grief, and not ignore it. It will never go away until it is met head on. I also wanted to empower those who grieve as they find themselves alone and attempting to rebuild a life oftentimes in a new era. It takes determination and commitment as well as time.

Courage is often likened to resilience. In your opinion how is courage both similar and different to resilience?

To have courage is to face insurmountable odds, even in the face of fear and to be able to push forward through adversity. I would never have imagined that I would have been faced with such a horrific loss. I found myself clawing my way out of a dark abyss toward the light at the end of it. Giving up was not an option, and every day, even though I was like a wilted flower, my desire to survive, caused me to come back stronger as I marched into the unknown, embarking on my new life journey, alone. This to me is the mark of a resilient spirit, having the courage to withstand the storm and come out stronger, enlightened, and more fearless than ever before. The ability to continue to live life comes from facing adversities and strengthening that resilient muscle that we all possess, which is there to help us confront anything that comes our way, even those events that come out of the blue.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?

When I think about the most resilient person I know of, it is more a group of people that come to mind. I think about Africans who were enslaved against their will. Many were determined to survive and ultimately thrive such as Harriet Tubman, Sojourner Truth, Nat Turner, Harriet Jacobs, Frederick Douglass, to name a few. They managed to escape the shackles of a cruel and horrible system and work toward the abolition of slavery as well as assist countless others to gain their freedom. Where did they find the wherewithal, the strength, and the resiliency to turn the tables on their masters and rise up to become leaders and role models in burgeoning African American communities as well as the world stage? To face the threat of death daily, live in fear, watch others die, to be extricated from their families, to be trapped in a foreign land, they found the resources and the inner strength to make a way out of no way. I find this to be the greatest example of resiliency for a people and but for them there go I.

Has there ever been a time that someone told you something was impossible, but you did it anyway?

If you tell me there’s something I cannot do that is a motivator for me. In fact, words of discouragement will spur me on to do the impossible. Once, many years ago when I was forced to move out of an apartment because my roommate had decided to leave before our lease was up, I had to scramble and find a new place that I could afford on my schoolteacher’s meager salary. I could only afford $200 a month at that time. I remember going to the New York Times building in Manhattan on a Saturday night with a girlfriend and purchasing the Real Estate section the day before it came out. We browsed the paper and found a fabulous studio apartment unlike any other in my desired neighborhood for under two hundred dollars. Everyone said, “Oh, you will never find anything in that price range.” However, with my determination I thumbed my nose to the naysayers and was successful. In the face of an unexpected event, I managed to gather all my resources and pulled off an impossible move. That was my resilient spirit in action.

Did you have a time in your life where you had one of your greatest setbacks, but you bounced back from it stronger than ever? Can you share that story with us?

When my husband died, that was one of the worst experiences I have ever had in my entire life. Although initially I was like a wilted flower, crying, depressed, anxious, and nearly spiritually dead, I was determined to lean into my grief, feel it and see where it would lead me. After grief counseling, bereavement group and pastoral care, plus the determination that I would survive, eventually I began to heal. Soon, I was like a blooming flower full of new life and hope, it was during this process when I decided to write Brave in a New World. I felt that if I could get through this period of great loss and grief and come out more resilient than ever then anyone, with my help, could too. It’s all about knowing what to expect and understanding that there’s a normal progression through the grieving process.

How have you cultivated resilience throughout your life? Did you have any experiences growing up that have contributed to building your resiliency?

My parents never hid their emotions. They were strong but they didn’t believe in keeping a stiff upper lip in the face of adversity. I always felt comfortable crying and showing emotion if I needed to. As a result, I believe that real strength lies not in the ability to “hold it in,” which only makes one cold and brittle, but it is having the ability to show emotion and let it out. Allowing others to express their grief and sorrow, however they need to for as long as they need to, is an example of giving grace to others without trying to compound another’s grief with admonishments like, “Don’t cry” or “Just hold it in.” As a result, I have been able to deal with misfortune by meeting it head on as opposed to tucking it away and ignoring the accompanying feelings. I believe that my ability to face life’s difficulties has helped to strengthen my resilient spirit.

Resilience is like a muscle that can be strengthened. In your opinion, what are five steps that someone can take to become more resilient? Please share a story or an example for each.

When it comes to being resilient these are five things, that will help:

1. Continue to build up confidence, as you will draw on that to help withstand any adversity that comes your way.

2. Develop trust and work on overcoming the fear of the unknown. You are stronger than you know, and the Universe will meet you where you are to assist you in challenging times.

3.One must be willing to feel all the emotions that come with facing huge obstacles in times of adversity. Don’t block the sad and stressful emotions. Let it flow.

4. One must not be afraid to reach out and share with someone what they’re going through. Asking for help is the first step toward healing. You are not expected to do it all alone.

5. Find your voice and do not allow others to poke you as you heal from whatever circumstance you may find yourself in. Speak up, set boundaries as you let people know that you draw the line when it comes to what people can say and what they can’t. Stand up for yourself and tell people to stop when they say things to you that you find unacceptable.

How have you cultivated resilience throughout your life? Did you have any experiences growing up that have contributed to building your resiliency? Can you share a story?

I personally had to gather all my physical and spiritual resources to survive after I lost my husband, Chuck. It was the greatest undertaking of my life, but I was determined to not be swallowed up by my grief. I would want to tell all of those who are facing loss or any other tragic circumstance, that it is imperative that you make a conscious decision to not sink but to swim. If there is one thing that people need to understand it is that the key to surviving adversity is within them. At some point, not now, not even in the near future, but at some point, they will look back on what they went through as a watershed moment, and hopefully it will catapult them into a new direction as they enter a new chapter in their life. One’s resilience will help them to embrace new opportunities, which will be an outgrowth of a negative experience. We want to be able to embrace these second chances with newly gained confidence, fearlessness, hope and resilience.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

If I could inspire a movement, it would be to encourage all women sixty plus to share their stories of resiliency, the lessons they’ve learned and the obstacles that they have had to overcome in their lives. Older women have the breadth of their lives in which they have gained wisdom, resiliency, insightfulness, intuitiveness, and the lessons that they’ve learned from lives long lived. Many have created something out of nothing. Some have had ideas born from the challenges that they’ve faced. After going through a great challenge and coming out on the other side, sharing stories could be the cautionary tale or the tale of encouragement that someone younger, who may be experiencing a life challenge, might need to hear. I would encourage others to start telling their stories. While there are many young people who are making great strides in the world today, older men and women, who are often discarded or ignored after a certain age, have a great wisdom to impart. Listening to how older people have faced challenges will inspire young people. Hopefully, a story heard will help someone as they face the challenges, that they will undoubtedly have in life. Hearing survival stories, like my own, may strengthen another’s ability to persevere in the hardest times and not give up. Many who have felt defeated at some point in their lives, because of the challenges that they have had to face, could be encouraged, and change course, if they know that there is hope for them and their situation.

We are blessed that some very prominent leaders read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them 🙂

If I could meet with one individual it would be Oprah Winfrey. I truly admire how she didn’t allow her unfortunate childhood circumstances stop her from fulfilling her dreams. When she came on the scene in the early eighties, I had just gotten into metaphysical thought. A lot of her guests like Shakti Gawain, author of Creative Visualization for example, were aligned with where I was in my own spiritual journey. So, I got affirmation from her shows and life, particularly the shows regarding the spirit, visualization, and other metaphysical topics. I grew exponentially in my spiritual journey and always felt my feelings validated by her wisdom, and astute knowledge of how this life isn’t just about the physical plane. She may have been learning with me, but I was learning from her. She represents not only a resilient spirit, but she is an affirming, encouraging, enriching individual who has helped to upgrade the lives of women all over the globe. I began to see life not only in the physical but also in spiritual terms. I always felt aligned with her agenda as she stripped away the shackles of limited expectations and helped her followers embrace the freedom of being empowered.

All is possible, we have the power within us, like Dorothy’s ruby red slippers, we all own them, we must just remember to click our heels. Oprah Winfrey taught me this. She is my mentor and one of the greatest influences in my life. She is an example of someone who, through the fruits of her labor, is, for me, the epitome of strength, fortitude, and resilience.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

One can follow me on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/YvonneBroadyAuthor/

On Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/thebloomingwidow/?hl=en

They can read my blogs and follow my inspiring story of grief, hope and resiliency at: https://braveinanewworld.org/

They can also find healing guidance in my book Brave in a New World: A Guide to Grieving the Loss of a Spouse available on Amazon: https://tinyurl.com/x522n57m

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!

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There’s a Sweet Sweet Spirit

When I was taking care of my husband Chuck during his bout with pancreatic cancer, some days were very, very tough, and grueling. It required patience, a virtue I was born without. It also required remaining hopeful, staying strong, maintaining my stamina and having the ability to Catch the Light,those little pokes from God that let you know he’s got you.

There were many days when a chance encounter would help to buoy my spirits. There were numerous random experiences that left me feeling temporarily cheerful and encouraged. I had to stay above the murky waters that beckoned me daily. It was important that I didn’t get caught in the undertow, as I would’ve been drawn into a sea of sadness, despair and hopelessness. Sometimes a smile or brief conversation with a stranger left me feeling buoyed. These random encounters are what I call Catching the Light. I felt that God was letting me know that I wasn’t being abandoned as I continued caring for my ailing husband.

One day the purchase of a phone made all the difference for me. I had purchased a new phone and I didn’t know how to set it up. So I made my way to the local phone store to get assistance. I was feeling a bit discouraged on that Fall day. I had been feeling kind of down and unsure of our future. My husband was on hospice care at home by this time and I was trying very hard to stay encouraged daily. We had nurses, doctors, arriving almost every other day to look after Chuck, and as wonderful and attentive and nice as they were, I just wished that my life could go back to the way it was, when Chuck was well and all was right with the world. Sometimes I hoped a nurse or doctor would say, “Hey we can fix this, he’s showing signs of improvement; your husband’s getting better”, but that never happened. Anyway, on this particular day I arrived at the store and it was very crowded, but there was a young lady who came to assist me. She took my phone and asked me several questions about my usage and blah, blah, blah. When it came time to input contacts there was a question about how many I had. At that time I rarely used my mobile phone, so I had at least 10 contacts and at the most, 15 contacts. The young lady had mentioned that her mom was new at this cell phone thing also. She talked about how my frequency of use mimicked her mother’s. We chuckled about the similarities of our phone experiences. Finally, she was about to transfer the contacts from my old phone into my new cell phone. She asked me if I had more than 250 contacts. I answered her with a question: “Does your mother have 250 contacts?” She looked at me, I looked at her and we burst out laughing. She knew the answer. We laughed and another customer chimed in and laughed with us. After she had finished with me, I left with my phone and I suddenly felt better about the day. I was grateful for that chance encounter in a phone store with a pleasant, kind salesperson who had an abundance of patience and good cheer. A few years later, after Chuck had passed away, I was in that store and saw that young lady and she immediately remembered me. I told her what a joy she’d been that day when I came in to get help with my phone. Then I went on to explain to her how much her kindness changed my outlook for that one day and she began to cry. It was a moment. I just wanted her to know how that chance meeting added a bright spot to my grueling harsh reality at that time.

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I also remember that when I would go to church alone I would sit in a certain pew, and after a while the people around me became familiar. Unbeknownst to them, I felt secure and comfortable as I made my way into the church that my husband and I had decided to join together. It was the church that we had joined nearly 12 years earlier, it was the church that buried my husband, and it was the church that, at that time, was beginning to assist me as I struggled with my grief journey. I recall a Sunday I came into church and it was crowded. I walked past my regular seat and there was someone in the seat. I didn’t want to disturb anybody and I didn’t see any more seats available so I just joined the man in the pew. The gentleman was very cordial when I had to bother him and tell him I didn’t have a program. This man, who did not know me from Adam, was so accommodating. He shared his hymnal, he shared the program, and just was very gracious to me. For a moment I felt a sense of comfort, as I used to come to this church and sit with my husband in our favorite pew as we participated in the service. So here I was sitting next to this man, who I did not know and he was just being so lovely. He didn’t seem annoyed that I was asking him to share his hymnal, he just did it automatically. I was very grateful. I didn’t want to feel as if I was a burden to anyone, even a stranger.

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Thus, here I was on this Sunday feeling a little out of sorts because I had been late and I didn’t have a program, but this gentleman was very kind and accommodating to me. I’m sure he would’ve done the same for anybody sitting next to him, but it meant a lot to me since I had come into the church flustered because I was a bit late. His kindness allowed me to get a grip, to relax and enjoy the service.
As the service continued, the congregation was called to sing Sweet Sweet Spirit. Now I love this song, and it was actually one of the hymns that was played at my father’s funeral. It was a fave of his. Unbeknownst to anyone around me, hearing it brought a tear to my eye as I thought about my dad and my husband and how I missed them both. A long time after, when I would think about that day, it finally dawned on me that the playing of that song was letting me know that there was a sweet, sweet spirit in that place that day. It was as if God was reassuring me that I was not alone, that I had not been abandoned, and that if I have faith my needs would be fulfilled. I left the church that day, not feeling alone, but grateful for a stranger’s kindness. This was a small act that would affect me beyond measure.

I would have several of these chance encounters that really encouraged me, or made me smile, or just allowed me to forget my grief momentarily. I consider these people and events that unwittingly helped to give me strength during what I consider the darkest days of my life, to be “sweet spirits”.Since that time, I always try to return a smile or a greeting when a stranger on the street smiles and greets me. I am a little shy so this was a bit uncharacteristic for me, but now it’s become a part of who I am now. You never know what someone is going through. A lot of times people look at people superficially and make all kinds of judgments and assumptions. But we are all humans on the planet and many people are struggling with acute pain, a disability, a dreadful diagnosis, addiction, or loss. So I try to remember to be patient and kind to others, returning a favor, you know passing on the light. I never know when some little thing I say or do will make a difference in someone’s day. Even if the effect is just temporary it can be just enough to lighten someone’s burden for a moment or two.

Life is for the living, but oftentimes people are walking zombies dealing with tremendous worries and hardships. Perhaps an act of kindness, a smile, a bit of patience, which I’ve recently acquired, will be just what one needs to get through one day. I’ve come to believe that when we try to be a sweet sweet spirit to others that after all is said and done, “without a doubt we’ll know that we have been revived, when we shall leave this place”.

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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 https://tinyurl.com/jnjs5fu

Coping with Grief and The Holidays

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Anticipating the “first Christmas” without my husband produced a lot of anxiety within me. I remember doing last-minute errands on Christmas Eve, one stop included picking up a cake from Magnolia Bakery. My husband loved cake and sweets and getting a cake from this bakery had become a holiday tradition for us. On the first Christmas Eve, my son and his girlfriend were coming to pick me up, as it was my last stop before I went back home. There was a light snow falling and I sat outside the bakery waiting for my son to arrive. Suddenly, as I felt the snow on my cheeks and watched the Christmas Eve last minute hustle as couples walked by arm in arm, with packages and shopping bags, I began to silently weep. The tears came down my cheeks and seemed to freeze on my face. I couldn’t believe that I was about to celebrate Christmas without my husband and I was missing him terribly as I thought about how he loved the holiday and how he was no longer here to celebrate. I wanted to shout, “Hey, how can you people keep going on with your lives and my husband is no longer here?” I didn’t however, but went home, put last-minute touches on Christmas dinner, wept and wept, eventually falling into bed, silently wishing that the next day would whisk by in an instant. That first Christmas was small and we prayed a prayer of hope and healing, while acknowledging our loss. This would remain a part of a new ritual incorporated into each succeeding year. Thereafter, the pain lessened little by little for me, brand new traditions were born, now including many more who have become a part my of my “family of friends” as well as  my own immediate family.

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The first holidays after the loss of a loved one are referred to as the firsts. No, I didn’t coin that word, but a few months after my father had died, I spoke to a couple and told them I was about to celebrate my first Thanksgiving without my dad. The wife said to me, “Oh you’re about to experience the firsts”. Since then, I’ve come to refer to the firsts as the first holidays in a succession of holidays that occur in the first year after the death of a spouse or any loved one. Those who are left must figure out how to manage each occasion, now alone. Every occasion takes on a new meaning, even the less significant ones underscore the absence of the lost loved one.

After my husband Chuck died, I had to face all of the upcoming occasions of our lives, previously celebrated together, alone. There were also several new milestones that he would not be a part of. While I may now continue to share these holidays with friends and family, pangs of sorrow sometimes appear out of the blue and I just have to roll with it. Grief is like that as it comes in waves. But as time goes on one learns to manage those unexpected emotional lows as it becomes a part of our “new normal”.

The bereaved approach these annual holidays with much anxiety and trepidation, especially the first ones in the year that they have experienced the loss of a loved one. Some may feel anticipatory anxiety, while others have feelings of dread and foreboding in anticipation of the upcoming occasions.

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I too, felt some of these feelings after losing my husband and Thanksgiving and Christmas loomed like monsters in the distance. I did manage to get through each occasion as best as I could, and found that each subsequent year got a tiny bit easier.

Here are a few tips on how one can cope with grief and the holidays:

  1. Don’t be Hard on Yourself– keep in mind that the holidays will be different and if you’re hosting, ask others to pitch in and help, thus picking up the slack of not having your spouse to assist.
  2. Go along with the Day’s Activities– Avoid isolating yourself, join family and friends as much as you’re able. But if you decide that the day gets a little bit overwhelming then retreat to another room away from the maddening crowd. There you can take a breather from the stress of the occasion. If you’re not hosting, and  decide to leave early that’s fine too. Do what you can and remember you are in charge of how you want to spend the holidays. Also keep in mind grief comes in waves and any number of sights, sounds, and things said can catch you off guard emotionally. If some try to force you to stay, bless them, wish them well and leave anyway. If folks feel upset or insulted, that’s on them as you are only in charge of yourself and your well being. Follow your heart and your mood and just go with your flow. 

3. Change-You may want to consider changing the way that you celebrate. Incorporating new rituals, eliminating old ones that cause distress, is a good way to ease yourself into the newness of handling the holidays without your spouse or loved one.

4. Scale Down– Many occasions entail several days of celebrations. Try to pick and choose where and what you will attend. You want to conserve your energy to prevent becoming overwhelmed and exhausted. New Year’s Eve might be a great time to chill and relax at home, especially since the celebratory activities may not fit your mood. However, a New Year’s Day brunch, or open house may seem less overwhelming and easier to navigate.

In this time of the pandemic, social upheaval, social distancing and loss, we will all be scaling down this holiday season. To protect ourselves and others, we may not be able to have the family gatherings that we’re used to having. Some of you, sadly, may have not been able to share the last moments of a beloved family member who came down with COVID-19. Honoring our lost loved ones during this rare time in history, beckons us to create new and oftentimes unconventional ways of including them in our celebrations. During such a difficult moment in our lives we can create ways of seeing each other via ZOOM, and other similar platforms. We can share pictures and stories with family and friends, while still connecting with loved ones still here. Remember all life has value and no one has a right to put any interest above preserving lives. Now that people feel more comfortable about gathering with others who are  vaccinated, we can begin to resume Holiday traditions in person, always mindful of new rituals that continue to keep others safe.

5. Sit This Year Out- If the loss is fresh, and you feel as if you cannot bear going through the stressful rituals customary for your holiday celebrations, feel free to sit it out. Let close friends and family know your intentions so they don’t worry, and plan the day so that you can deal with the onslaught of emotions that may come up. Go to a movie, binge watch your favorite TV shows, or catch a movie classic that is unrelated to a holiday memory. Give yourself a spa day at home, curl up with a good book and a favorite beverage and just do the day your way. You might even want to visit the grave of your lost loved one.

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Making a plan to honor your lost loved one will help everyone to feel a part of your experience and help them to express their own thoughts on the loss as many have been impacted also in various ways. It may not seem like it in the beginning, it didn’t to me, but rest assured that the pain will slowly subside. Each moment of pain, in time, will give way to a renewed spirit and an appreciation of a life once lived, a life once shared, and beautiful memories to have and to keep.

One day you may decide to give back to others in some way during the holidays. This will help to fill the void left by your loss. Believe it or not, helping others is one way of helping yourself to heal. In time you will have gotten a handle on dealing with your loss. Remember, be patient with yourself and do not be discouraged as this too shall get easier.

I promise.

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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 .

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Lost and Found

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The loss of a spouse is best described by those who have experienced such in almost unspeakable terms. Tragic, sad, unbearable, unimaginable, and yet spouses lose spouses everyday. Some deaths are expected, while others come out of the blue. But for those who lose a spouse the response is always the same: shock, disconnection with everything around them, as well as extreme heartache and pain.

It is this acute pain that causes (the widow (er)) to stumble, become forgetful, distance themselves from others, become stoic, and/or wail and cry with anguish and despair. Everyone’s response is different as the bereaved deal with this new realm of normal. This is the aftermath of losing a spouse which eventually becomes the beginning of one’s new normal. They do not know what to expect as they begin to feel their world implode and grapple with the fact that life as they knew it has changed. They end up waiting to see what will happen next and wonder about a lot of things: Will he (she) return? This is a question, believe it or not, asked by many who are at the beginning of their grief. They are in a state of shock and often while in this netherworld, they’re not sure what has just taken place in their life. When some leave the deceased’s personal belongings intact right after a person has died, there is a secret desire for the dead to return. Also there can be a fear that the dead spouse would not approve of any changes made, so an overwhelming task is put off indefinitely. This is all a part of the beginning stage of the grief journey, a denial of the loss of sorts, and it is an experience had by many.

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In time as they get used to the idea that their spouse has left forever, they will think about putting their lives back together. It will be as though they are pulling together pieces of a puzzle and realizing that some of the pieces just don’t fit.

This is the beginning of their new normal. Eventually everyone will be “normal” again , but never the same as before. I am convinced they are not meant to be, for the losses that we suffer are meant to remind us that we are mere mortals who are not going to live forever. It is a signal that we must begin to take stock of our own lives as we rebuild them and think about our new future. These lives will look like new chapters in one’s book of life and there will be blank pages waiting to be filled in. This new story is not meant to be a retelling of the old.

For me, during this period between life and death, I began to think deeply about my life and reflect on my purpose for being, the reason why I was born. I sorted through thoughts of the past, my childhood, my life with Chuck, and my whole life became a newsreel playing in my mind over and over again. I became keenly aware of my mortality and the fragility of life, but I didn’t dwell too long on such thoughts as I  sought answers to the events that had led me to becoming a widow. I even wondered how my destiny ended up intertwined with my husband’s fate, ultimately leading me to a new place in my life. I thought about so many things as I tried to sort out my new way of living without my husband and what it was that I was suppose to do next.

Eventually, after all I had been through, I began to think that many people had similar questions and experiences resembling my own; then it hit me that I wanted to help them by writing about a topic that folks rarely speak about. I wanted to be a voice for the bereaved, assisting them with the trials and tribulations of bereavement. I wanted to assure them that their feelings were OK and that, as they leaned into the pain; they would eventually make peace with it all in their own time and on their own terms. I also wanted them to know that no one else but they can determine how they should respond. Being resilient  and having the determination to go on with life while gaining  a new perspective on life, will come to everyone in time, without the pressure of outside forces.

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My loss led me to the question :“Why am I here?” I knew for myself, that if I dwelled in the pain too long I would miss the message I was supposed to receive from my spirit. This epiphany took place after a long period of time, but eventually I got it.

Crises and tragedies do not occur for naught. I believe that survivors are meant to take their experiences and find new meanings for their lives. These events call upon everyone to grow into the next level, the one where we “get” that we have something else that we are called upon to do. Whatever that may be, whatever age we may be, a higher purpose is awaiting all of us. We just have to get out of our own way. These events are meant to force us to take action in our lives, as we rebuild and figure out what comes next. We are also meant to be reminded that this life is fleeting and we should be living mindfully. Out of my tragedy, and after many, many years of grieving, my life went off into a new direction, born out of grief and turmoil. My loss became my ultimate moment of enlightenment forcing me to look at a new direction for my life .

I would suggest that all who lose a spouse, take all the time that they need to grieve. Sort through all of the chapters of your old book, your old life. Then, after awhile open to a new chapter and begin to write your new story by living again. It is in this moment that it will be revealed to you the reason that you are here, the reason that you were born. Remember, the loss of a loved one may help you find more than you lost. Sad as losing a spouse may be, it could be the very event that unlocks the key to how to live the remainder of your life, ultimately fulfilling your destiny.

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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, click this link: http://tinyurl.com/jnjs5fu

When Love Is Interrupted

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Sunday, January 24, 2016 was the seventh anniversary of my husband’s death. At some point near that date I would make my way to the cemetery and sit by his grave for awhile. I hadn’t been up there in almost two years at that point in time, as I no longer, had the need to go as often as I once had.

Prior to the first time that I went up to where Chuck is buried, it took a while for me to gather the courage. It may seem odd as many after loss are eager to visit their loved one’s grave soon after the funeral. I had mentioned to my bereavement group that I hadn’t been since the burial and, that I was planning to go soon then five months since Chuck had passed. They didn’t judge and gave me gentle words of encouragement. When I arrived at his crypt, I placed my hand on the cool marble, traced my fingers over his engraved name and wept and wept. The sounds came out of me like a soft lament from my heart to God’s ears.

Biblical Counseling Coalition | Psalms 42 and 43—The Gift of Lament

When Chuck became ill out of the blue in December 2007, brakes were put on our normal life, the sound of the screech reverberating in my soul of souls. Our life would never be the same again, as we embarked on a new journey, one given to us on a platter made of lead. But through it all we continued to maintain our love for each other and it is that abiding love and our individual and collective faith that carried us through from diagnosis to his last breath.

Now however that period in my life finally feels like long ago and I’ve learned so much from all that I’ve been through. I’ve gone from not wanting to live without my husband, to rediscovering a new inner strength as I began to explore new possibilities for my life. I’ve gained a new perspective on the world and I’ve found my place in it. Even after his death, I could still feel Chuck’s transformed love surrounding me as I went about each day. It is that feeling of eternal love that has guided me up to the present. I’ve also gained a sixth sense about things as I’ve felt myself being pointed in the right direction, although I’m not always quite sure where I’m heading.

Love is an intangible thing, emotion …feeling. If it is truly there between two people, it is what will remain when life ceases for one. The remaining essence of that love can in fact become so strong that it seems palpable to those who “feel” it. But we must not  become so attached to these feelings that it entraps us as we run in place, mournful, reclusive, full of sorrow and  melancholy. We want to avoid getting caught up in a fantasy world of our own making, as we cling to our memories, instead of creating new ones.

Fading Away - Living Through Depression

Love is never interrupted as it is “that thing” that lives on eternally. Those of us who have loved and lost a loved one are truly fortunate to have had an experience that oftentimes eludes many for most of their lives. The fact that we have lost the person, doesn’t negate the fact that the love of that person, the beauty and the experience of having had him or her in one’s life, even if but for awhile, should be the overarching theme of a time in our lives that we will one day be able to look back on with warm feelings. If we remember the story of Victor Hugo’s daughter Adele H, note that she spent her entire life chasing after unrequited love. We do not want to spend the rest of our lives chasing after a love that we no longer have in the physical, making our experience of love lost more acutely painful than it should be.

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When we grieve and recover, we can begin to rebuild our lives or we can decide to hold on tightly to our grief and pain so as not to “mar the legacy” or “lose the memory” of the loved one. This choice is always up to those who grieve. Take heed however, the longer we hold on, more than likely our lives will once again become interrupted by the physical manifestation of that tight grip, somewhere down the road..

Love is meant to be loving; it is not meant to be a choke-hold on one’s life. Your lost loved one’s spirit does not want you to disrupt your life here any longer than need be. When love is interrupted we must try to avoid blocking the residual essence of that love. When we release our grip on the past we will begin to allow a new experience to take hold in our lives.

Remember, love may have been interrupted, but it is never-ending and that feeling, the essence of what two people had, is what always remains.

GoodTherapy | After the Thrill Is Gone: The Science of Long-Term Love

 

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/r6txttsy

 

    Bow Bridge, Fall and New Beginnings

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 Central Park’s Bow Bridge symbolizes so many things to me. It reminds me of my late husband, Chuck’s, love for Central Park and how he used it’s vast natural resources to teach children science and marine biology, as well as give my son and his nephews many adventures there. They would climb hills, charging through the landscape, while exploring the high points and low points of this rich,lush, beautiful, free park. Central Park is the 5th largest park in New York City, and it is set on 843 acres of land.

At a certain point in the park, about 80th St, one can glimpse the towers of the majestic Beresford, a luxury prewar coop located on New York’s Upper West Side’s Central Park West. These towers remind me of the spires of another iconic building, the El Dorado. Seeing these towers prompt me to recall my father’s advice that whenever I got turned around in the Park going from Eastside to the Westside I should look for the towers of the El Dorado and they would always lead me home.

My Six Favorite Buildings on Central Park West - iLovetheUpperWestSide.com
The Beresford

The Bow Bridge, with its interlocking circle design on the bannisters has an even more specific meaning for me. It conjures up a memory of a lovely time at an art festival in a town far away from New York. It was five years after my husband’s death and I was beginning to live my life more fully while taking a leap of faith. As I perused the art along the streets, I was surprised to see so many artistic paintings of the Bow Bridge. I felt moved and proud of the many inspired interpretations of that beautiful bridge. Each one that I saw made me think,”My bridge”, in my little New York mind.

I truly believe everything happens in it’s own time when we’re ready ……the soul knows. This was the time that I emerged from the gray frost of winter into the crisp brilliant colors of fall. The risk to travel far from home, unearthed the key to my destiny and opened a new door for me. During that period, five years since my husband’s death, I began to write words that spilled onto each and every page from the depths of my soul.

I was no longer a bud and and little did I know, a blooming flower was about to emerge. Change and taking risks is what living is all about. Amidst all that life puts us through we are expected to have lessons, learn lessons and grow. Without learning the lessons, we will continue to have more lessons. However, if we don’t learn what we’re being taught, each new lesson will become more difficult, until we “get it”, on and on until our days are done.

Bud Bloom Blossom Photograph by Mike Reid

We cannot grow if we run in place, holding onto hurts, regrets, anger, jealousies and guilt. Running in place only digs one a hole until we become buried beneath our life’s “stuff”. Closing ourselves off is not playing it safe, putting up a protective shield, does not lead to growth and will not protect us from the emotional scarring that can come with living life. It only stunts our evolution, as we live with our myopic thoughts, barren and isolated, barricading ourselves behind walls of our own making.

Fall has always been a special time for me. As a former educator, that first September breeze, always made me feel that it was an opportunity to start over, to renew, to begin again. It was, indeed a new year, not unlike January 1st, which ushers in the New Year for all, this new year was a mid-year refresh. New lessons would be taught and learned, with end of year growth, hopefully. Then on to new horizons, newer lessons, chapters opened and closed, new journeys. Life is like crossing a bridge, some bridges not as beautifully embellished as the Bow Bridge, some tarnished and stained with mud, some rickety, some fragile, some painful underfoot. But by being present, letting go of the past, taking risks, each crossing will get easier and the burden lighter. These are the memories conjured up in my mind’s eye when I think of the Bow Bridge. This is a bridge that has withstood the weathering of time, and it reminds me of myself, as it and we continue onto our journey’s end…….toward always unfolding New Beginnings.

What landmark in your town reminds you of what you have endured since having lost your spouse?

There Will be Signs

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, and I let out a small scream. At that point, the cab driver eyed me through the rearview 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 happen after a loved one has 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’ve learned to just meet people where they’re at.

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 when 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

After Loss: Change Is on The Way

Full Moon for Strength and Healing - Somya Devi Vedic Astrology

I can say undeniably, that I am no longer the person I once was since losing my husband to pancreatic cancer in 2009. However, it has taken me many years to be able to look back at the cumulative progression of my grief experience. I have recalled my long, long mourning, my struggle to rebuild my life and my eventual emergence into my “new normal”.

As the world turns so do we. We often find ourselves beginning again, turning from old ways to new beginnings via life’s constantly changing circumstances and also by being exposed to new ideas. We are always given an opportunity to open ourselves up to fresher ways of thinking and living our lives. We think that things will remain the same, but they do not, and the news is that they aren’t suppose to. This is all a natural part of life, yours and mine.

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My life before my husband was just that…… before him. When Chuck and I became husband and wife my life totally changed. I was no longer the single woman I’d once been, as I was now in a sacred partnership. I had to learn to accommodate another person’s feelings, habits, routines, idiosyncrasies, values, and emotions. Chuck had to do the same with me. In so doing, we had to learn to compromise, which sometimes got a little messy, but in the end it always worked out for the highest good of each of us and our little family. Life with another involves change and accommodation. We cannot expect to hold sway in every decision, and contrary to popular thought, one person does not always know what’s best at all times. Honoring, listening and respecting a partner’s point of view is a good way to keep harmony in a marriage, oh but then, I do digress.

There are very few 50/50 relationships. Some couples say they do things 50/50, especially nowadays, but if someone gets ill or is out of work, or is forced out of the blue to assume an unforeseen responsibility that alters the normal routine of family life, more than likely the husband or wife will have to assume the burden of picking up the slack for the better good of the family. It is at these times when a couple must rely on their love bond, which undergirds the foundation of their marriage, in order to deal with whatever lies ahead. That love is the key underpinning of all successful marriages.

7,413 Black Couple Holding Hands Stock Photos, Pictures & Royalty-Free Images - iStock

Through the struggles and unpredictable situations that will arise in all relationships as we live and grow older, we might be surprised to find out that after the difficulty, the outcome may offer a blessing in disguise. One’s life may take a turn and end up on a road that one never expected to be on. However, one must continue to work through the personal pain of grief and loss so as not to get stuck on a road with no end in sight.

My husband Chuck and I had a life together. We cared for ill parents, who seemed to age very quickly, out of the blue. We took on these unexpected new challenges and we became the parents, in essence, to our parents. For so many of us, eventually the parent-child roles will be reversed. My husband truly stepped up to the plate. As I began to care for my father, Chuck chipped in as if it were his dad. He became not only someone I could lean on, but the man I could rely on to assist me as I cared for my dad. We adapted our lives to meet the challenges that were quickly coming our way. Our mutual love and commitment, strengthened our bond, allowing us to be there for each other as the words “in sickness and in health” became our reality in truth. Never did we imagine, little did we know, that our sacred promise would be put to the test in a way that would initially shake us up. In the end, our joint resolve was to see things through, no matter what. We were a fierce force together until the end. After my husband died, and when the dust had settled I would soon begin my own journey through the grieving process and settle into a new lifeone that I could have never imagined.

I read many widows’ stories and laments, numerous ones mirroring my own. Women with children, women who’ve been married over 40, 50, 60 years. Some women have been married a year or two or ten. Sudden illnesses, heart attacks, rare diseases, long-term sickness, accidents. They write about the pain and how they’ll never get over the loss. They write about how life will never be the same. While it’s true you will never get over the loss,  in time the pain will soften. Eventually, the hurt will lessen until it becomes a part of the fabric of who you are. You will have a new perspective on your life, friendships, the world, love, death, and all intangible aspects of being a part of the living.

My life has changed drastically from my former life before my husband died. The life I have now is rich and full. It was unimaginable to me in the early stages of my grief that I would ever be in this really good place, but it was created out of the ashes of my tragic loss and formed by the tiny steps that I took to come back to life again. The things I have experienced, the amazing people who have been put in my path and have helped me grow; all this would not have taken place had my husband lived. And, although I would rather have had him here with me, I now understand that that was not in the cards for me and spending this period of my life alone was a part of my destiny. All the pain, and the changes strengthened me, made me wiser, more empathetic, more perceptive, more intuitive. I understand the fragility of life and how the most salient thing is to remember that people, not things, are important. Caring for others is doing God’s work.

Every loss is meant to transform those who are left. These are those watershed moments that define and shape us. You are being asked to step up to a higher level of consciousness when you are faced with unexpected changes in conditions, which can lead to opportunities for a higher state of self-awareness and the possibility of coming into more of your own. Remember, in life the ultimate goal is to live consciously and to learn our lessons as we ascend, otherwise you will only be living life running in place.

Of course, when it comes to losing a spouse, the initial challenge is getting through the grief and pain of loss and that is always up to those who grieve. Keep in mind. after loss, (although hard to understand initially when blinded by the veil of grief) you’re being given an opportunity to decide if you are going to remain in pain, running in place or shed the shackles of grief and walk toward something new.

It’s up to you.

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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

Finding Joy Again and Again

Finding my joy again. In the smallest of things | by Danielle Hamner | Live  Your Life On Purpose | Medium

I believe that being a happy human is not so out of reach.My husband Chuck was a contented, balanced human being, however, I would never characterize him as happy. He had moments where he was happy, but they were few and far between.He gained great satisfaction from positive events in his life, but I rarely, if ever, saw him giddy or ecstatic with joy. It was the way he was wired. He did, however, possess a good temperament and a sweet nature, although his gallows humor could be a little tough to get used to. But that was my Chuck, not perfect, but then neither was I (although I told him I was and he believed me).

Chuck was a man’s man, tough but also warm.For example, there was the time he came home and announced that a neighbor of ours, who I knew only in passing,would be joining us for Thanksgiving dinner.I was surprised that he had invited a stranger (Chuck was not a fan of strangers) into our home for dinner. He went on to explain that the man had told him that he would be spending Thanksgiving alone, and Chuck was not hearing it. It was fine with me, my motto being the more the merrier. When Thanksgiving arrived Frank did not show up. A few months into the next year, Frank passed away from cancer.I did see him before this happened and told him we had missed him that day, it was then that he revealed details of his illness. He said he really appreciated the invitation and had every intention of coming but had been blindsided by his illness.

My husband Chuck loved to teach and advise anyone who sought his counsel, and many, many did. He would impart pearls of wisdom, with the hope that all those he taught would go forth and live successful and fruitful lives. Financial security and independence were very important to him and he felt that this was one of the keys to building a solid foundation for living a successful and productive life. Chuck would love it when those who had been the recipients of his advice would come back to him and share outcomes that were positive and successful. He felt pride in the fact that he was able to give others the building blocks for living a fruitful life, from his perspective. He did not necessarily feel happiness, but more a sense of gratification, satisfaction.Chuck was practical, a realist and very pragmatic….black and white no gray.

I,on the other hand, have always been an optimist, even under the most dire of circumstances. I rarely lose hope and always try to connect to my joy. I was and still am, a Pollyanna of sorts. It’s how I’m wired…who I am. Chuck and I were complete opposites in that way.

Although I’m not happy all the time, the happy experiences that I have had have always left me with a feeling of overwhelming joy and and at times exhilaration. I grew up in a family that expressed,unabashedly, feelings of happiness when the situation called for it. We all became giddy with excitement and I just thought that was the norm for everybody when they experienced great pleasure or good news. But I would soon learn that not all people are comfortable with expressing emotions, particularly feelings of joy or sorrow.

After Chuck passed away my soul became dead, numb. Happiness became an emotion I could no longer access. Even as I began to slowly recover, I found I had lost the ability to “feel” joy. I would soon become satisfied with just being able to put one foot in front of the other and make it through each new day. I felt as though I would never feel happiness again. In those early days of my mourning, I recalled a line from one of Langston Hughes’ poems, ‘life ain’t been no crystal stair’,which reminded me that life is not always going to be filled with good news. Many experiences that people have are full of pain, sorrow and suffering. For some,the pain of whatever is daily, relentless.  I would soon sink into the depths of depression, which is very different from just feeling sad. I felt as if I was sinking into an abyss of hopelessness and despair and thought that this was going to be my new normal, my new state of my being and it would have to be okay. So, I settled in for the day-to-day grief, with expectations of no end to the pain in sight.

Many, many months later, years really, I would slowly begin to long to feel joy in my life again. As time wore on and I became more engaged in life again, I began to notice that I had entered a new stage in my grief recovery and that being able to feel joy again might actually be a possibility.I began to experience events that allowed me to see that I could access dormant upbeat feelings.As the direction of my life changed, I thought I might be able to feel joy again.I knew that my husband would be happy for me in heaven.He knew I was his “happy girl” and on some level I believe that he envied my ability to be cheerful bordering on ecstatic when an experience or event warranted such feelings.

I do believe that being able to feel joy has to do with how we were raised, our life experiences and how we internalize and manifest our emotions. In life, we can’t prevent those random interruptions that can cause trauma and turmoil and change the course of our lives, but we can intentionally dwell on good ideas and thoughts and strive to live our lives in accordance with those thoughts. One’s emotional state of well being and positive responses can rub off on others, and inspire those around us to also begin to believe that happy is not so far-fetched. Sometimes that doesn’t always work and others may remain remote, morose, and stoic, but we, who are the optimists, must continue to stay true to who we are and try to avoid being dragged,like quicksand, into another person’s emotional response to situations that we feel are good and positive. Some folks are simply joy killers and although we may not be able to change who they are we do not want them to change who we are either. Feeing joy is critical to coming back to life again. Don’t be afraid of those feelings…..after awhile you will begin to feel that life has possibility again, and again.

To read more about my grief journey and how you can  navigate yours read Brave in a New World: A Guide to Grieving the Loss of a Spouse, available on Amazon.com http://tinyurl.com/jnjs5fu

Please feel free to write a review of my book on Amazon.