Widows and Widowers: Walking a Different Path

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How Does One Rebuild A Life When it’s Been Smashed into Smithereens?

After my husband Chuck died, I was left standing in the middle of my interrupted life, not knowing which way to turn. I remember myself in those days as feeling trapped in my body, desperate to get out. Everyday was like Groundhog Day, the same excruciating pain, the same numbness, anxiety and depression. I was going through the motions each and every day, waking up, starting a new day over again, searching for my husband, falling asleep and awakening to the same routine again.
I had developed routines, but these felt shallow and not rooted in reality, my new reality, that was taking shape as I continued to live and breathe. I became desperate with a desire to distract myself from my ever-present thoughts and to stay healthy so as not to lose my fragile mind. This was a very, very tough time, and as I entered what I like to call my “new normal” I was sure it would last indefinitely.
As the months dragged on swiftly – normal time ceased to exist for me – it was some time in the following year that I began to feel a bit more hope. I would come to realize that I was starting over, a clean canvas, but now all alone. I had an opportunity to reconstruct my life anyway I chose. I was, after all, now ONE, and all my future choices were my call. I no longer had to ask for anybody else’s opinion, or have my husband weigh in on the decisions I would make. This realization helped to drive my life forward. I began to assess everything in my life: my home, my work, my faith, my friends, my lifestyle, myself, and my purpose.

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Who was I Before and Who Do I Want to be Now?

Everyone who experiences the loss of a spouse should do a self-assessment at some point, when they’re ready and able. It’s a good thing.
You might ask yourself, “How do I want to live my life now?”
This question will help to highlight the fact that your life has transitioned from two to one (hard to swallow), and although you are alone, you do not have to spend your life in loneliness.

A New Opportunity

Although it’s understandably difficult for many widows and widowers to look at their loss as a moment in time when positive changes are just beyond the horizon, in time many will come to know that they have new options for their lives.
When you reach that point where you’re ready to create something new in your life you might want to ask yourself a few more questions. Jot down the questions and the answers in a little journal that you can refer to as you go, it will serve as a template for your new life. Here are some samples of what you might ask yourself:

1. Who am I now?
2. How has the effect of this loss changed me?
3. Where do I go from here?                                                                                                                4. Who do I want to be in my new reality.

Be truthful with yourself, as this is not about optics, but an opportunity for you to really decide in what direction you want to take your life. These questions will help to give you an idea of what you want and how you want to live. Your new life is certainly not one you’ve lived before, as you are now a widow or a widower. How small or how large do you want your future to be? How do you plan to get there? It’s all up to you.
You should also ask yourself one very practical question: What can I do to change my living space to suit my new life and needs?
I would suggest that you do not do anything drastic particularly in the beginning, but think about how you can personalize where you live so that it suits your needs now. You can actually consider moving, or making changes in your current home that you would never have thought about doing before. A fresh look at one’s surroundings can inspire you to look at making changes in other areas of your life.
I have a friend who lost his wife and is now in a relationship with someone who is different from his former spouse. Although this friend grieved the loss of his wife so sorely, after having cared for her for years, he would one day begin to yearn for female companionship again. He met someone who now complements who he is now, and they are having a great time together. He did this after nine months which brings me to this salient point: there is no discretionary time frame after the loss of a spouse to pursue one’s own desire to seek companionship again. Old rules like waiting a year after are no longer viable and whenever you’re ready to move on it’s fine. If you’re never ready, that’s fine too. Your life is yours.
We as human beings are always in transition, because the world is ever-changing, situations change, death changes those who are affected, as it should, as we become cognizant of our own mortality and the time we have left. We must not get stuck in the past and we must continue to live and thrive and be hopeful about our future. Death then, can become the catalyst for new opportunities to come to fruition in one’s life. After a time, we may or we may not come to this realization, but if we do, we must seize the time. Staying stuck in the past does not stretch us, and may do more harm than good.

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Trying a different route home, making new friends, developing new interests will unlock doors allowing new experiences to take hold. There will be bouts of loneliness, waves of grief, but the time between these episodes will increase as one rebuilds a life bit by bit.
Many people are so laden with grief that to become free of it can be unsettling, and may seem uncomfortable at first. But as one begins to feel a sense of optimism and hope as they turn their attention to living again  and move away from the constant pain of loss, they will begin to rebuild their lives in ways that suit their new normal. One may even open the door to love again if they choose.
Ask yourself some of the questions that I have posed. You will probably not be able to do this in the beginning of your loss, but at some point you will want to figure out your next move.The answers to these questions will become the blueprint that you will use as you recreate your life.
Should you choose to stumble down a new path like a newborn, you will be led in a direction beyond your loss toward a life with no labels, only to discover who you are becoming next in this new chapter, on your own terms.

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Read more about rebuilding life after loss my in book  Brave in a New World: A Guide to Grieving the Loss of a Spouse  at Amazonhttp://tinyurl.com/qghzw3e or  you can order at Barnes and Noble.

Making a Case for (im)Perfection

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Recently, my brother and I were reminiscing about our childhood. As my brother looked into my linen closet, which I’d organized a few weeks before but was now becoming a bit messy, he asked me if I remembered how our dad used to line up the towels in neat stacks in the linen closet, so that when you went to pull one towel out, the others remained intact. I vaguely recalled, but there was so much of my childhood that was related to “doing things in a certain way” that certain rituals have remained with all of us four children, even into adulthood.
Hospital corners when making the bed, setting the table with the proper setting, family meals altogether, prayers before sleep. Many households today are less conventional and  more casual, some even eschewing separate dining rooms for more informal family eating arrangements. Lifestyles inform family rituals, but during the 50’s there was a proper way to do things and most of the families I knew, black and white, at that time practiced the same daily routines.

My mother and father were wonderful and gracious hosts who entertained often. Family, friends, club meetings. Whatever the occasion they’d go all out to make their guests feel at home with enough food to eat and drink, guest towels, beautifully scented guest soaps, great music, everything to make a guest feel comfortable in a relaxed, unstuffy atmosphere. They hated pretension  and welcomed all. My friends loved the easiness with which they were able to host and still manage to create the perfect atmosphere for enjoyment, political dialogue and fun. They were a bit unusual and they were my role models when it came to hosting a gathering. I felt that they were perfect hosts and I admired the ease with which they entertained. It was always the best.

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The struggle to get things perfect has more to do with how high we set the bar and whether we can rise to meet it. We’re influenced by our childhood experiences, as we all know. Some folks come from regimented backgrounds, chaotic backgrounds, military backgrounds, backgrounds full of neglect all which can contribute to a need to organize our adult lives “perfectly”. But it is that striving for such a high standard that can actually thwart a person’s efforts to get anything completed, which then leads to procrastination, indecisiveness or an ongoing quest for perfection in everything they do. Like a vicious cycle the behavior continues until one realizes that no matter how hard they strive, the Universe can come along at any moment and throw a monkey wrench into the best laid plans. When these random interruptions occur, there’ll be nothing they can do but to redirect their actions and get ready for whatever is coming down the pike.

It’s important to understand that trying to create perfection in our lives can lead to bigger disappointments and hurts. We should not have to hold others or ourselves to a standard that is almost impossible to achieve and takes the LIFE out of living. In life, people are not flawless, mistakes will be made and we cannot save ourselves from the inevitable pitfalls, hurts, losses, trials and tribulations of living life on earth.

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For many getting every detail correct can be exhausting. But for me it’s second nature as I come by this trait naturally and it’s probably a part of my DNA. Delegating tasks to others can leave me feeling somewhat stressed as I feel that no one can get whatever I need to get done better than I can. I have been disappointed in the past by decisions some have made on my behalf, therefore nine times out of out of 10, I’ll end up doing it myself. The fulfillment that I get from completing a project to my own satisfaction is like a high, which overrides the stress of the hoops I had to jump through to make sure a plan was executed perfectly and in a timely manner.I can trust that I will get it done.

I was visiting a friend one summer at her vacation home on Lake Michigan, and as I sat in the lovely retreat sipping my morning cup of coffee, I watched her make her bed. She had a beautiful mattelasse cover that she was struggling to “get right” on the bed. The thing looked just fine to me, and my offers of help prompted her to tell me to relax. She continued to tussle with that blanket and that scene played out in my mind as I would one day remember her need to get that blanket perfectly onto the bed until she was satisfied. A half-hour of her striving for the perfect the bed, one day caused an epiphany in me as I recounted my own need to do everything perfectly.

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When my husband was diagnosed with cancer, I knew that he was struggling internally with his own questions about why he was stricken with, of all things, pancreatic cancer. During his “long journey home”, sensing and fearing how it would end, there was a period where Chuck was trying to be a better person, his best person. I believe he felt that he might ,in some way, appease God and that in turn God would reverse his predicament. Mind you my husband was a beautiful human being, not perfect, full of flaws,with feet of clay not unlike myself. But faced with a serious illness he bargained with God hoping that a miracle would be granted to him.
Me, on the other side as the caretaker, I didn’t want to slip up in my newly assigned position as designated caretaker of my husband, and so I didn’t want to assign anyone else to take over my responsibilities. I knew what had to be done, I couldn’t  rely on anyone else to care for Chuck as well as I could. This is what I thought in my own mind. I loved him more than anything and if anyone could make him better I could. I thought what if there was a slip up and what if a medication was not given when it was supposed to be given. What if this what if that. I knew how to care for my Chuck perfectly, to keep him here with me as long as possible. Maybe God would see and allow him to live, I would think, but I would soon learn that God doesn’t do these terrible things. I had many things to learn about God and when bad things happen to good people. But as time went on the hard truth about Chuck’s prognosis became a reality, probably much sooner to Chuck than to me. I was becoming tired but I did not want to drop the ball. However, as  time went on, caring for Chuck became more difficult as his cancer progressed and I eventually relinquished and allowed a home attendant to come in and help me. Here is where I had to trust that she could take care of my husband as I would….. and she did. I had to trust that his sister would look after her dear brother when I tended to other things, and she did. I had to trust that his brother would care for him when I was unavailable, and he did. And when his best friend offered to sit with Chuck while I went out, he also was able to look after him with love and care.

Searching for perfection is an elusive pursuit and when it comes down to the brass tacks, it’s all about allowing oneself to trust others and to forgive oneself when things aren’t perfectly done. Perfection should not be a way of life, living life should be a way of life. Keeping things orderly only heightens stress, creating more pressure on oneself and in the end what will be gained? Life is to be lived freely, without self imposed constraints.We must also be willing to be open to changing our way of thinking, as this will help to free us from antiquated ideas and restricting habits that block one from living life to the fullest.

My desire to care for my Chuck perfectly didn’t change the inevitable. He died and part of me died too.The perfectionist is a part of who I once was, but I’ve learned that I no longer need to prove to myself that I must live up to a standard that nobody can meet. The need to prove to myself that doing things perfectly will eliminate any imbalance or negativity in my life is a a practice with a price too high for any human being to adhere to especially the dying.

Striving for perfection often comes from a need to create balance in a life that may not have  been so “perfect” growing up. As adults, we must learn to live life freely untethered to broken pasts and other baggage that keeps us weighed down in the present. We must release the past and try to go more with the flow, shedding the unnecessary baggage that keeps us from truly being us.

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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

Rumblings in My Spirit

 

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My late husband Chuck and I were in our late 30s when we got married, and I was over the moon excited about marrying my beloved. He had been married twice before but still shared my excitement and happily joined me in planning our new life together.

I am an artist, and a formally trained jeweler. I dabbled a bit in painting, but jewelry making was my passion. In my early 20’s I was exhibiting my jewelry in galleries and it was selling in major dept. stores and boutiques in the Northeast. I also taught school, art in the early years, second and fifth in the middle years, art again at what would be the end of my professional teaching career, as I retired early and unexpectedly, to care for my ill husband.

After Chuck passed away and the dust began to slowly settle, I wondered how I would rebuild my life again. My slate was clean and I only had myself to think of as I navigated a new world that was foreign at best and scary at worst. There were times when I found myself teetering on the edge of extreme insanity and uncertainty.

As I began to wonder and think about what I wanted to do with my life going forward, I was forced to look at my past. I recalled that when Chuck was alive, in the years before his death, I was beginning to feel as if something was missing in my life. I was Chuck’s wife and we had a good marriage, but I was experiencing what I would characterize as a rumbling in my spirit. It was during these many periods of introspection that I discovered that I was yearning for something more. I felt that I was missing something in my life and I needed to do something different, although I wasn’t sure exactly what that would be.

I soon realized that these intense feelings of discontent were letting me know that I wasn’t being my authentic self or that I was not pursuing my own dreams apart from my husband.There was a reverberating noise that had me quaking inside. This strange feeling was separate from the aches I had from having lost my husband. As I thought back on my life with Chuck, I felt I had reached the point where I was beginning to feel that our lives had become humdrum, routine and boring. The ordinariness of our life together lacked the excitement and adventure that I craved but I didn’t know it at the time.I must’ve been experiencing a midlife crisis, but I put a lid on those feelings hoping that they would go away.

When Chuck passed and as I explored the many options I had for my life alone, I kept coming back to the things that had once excited me, gave me purpose and whet my creative juices. Soon I began to redecorate my home in new ways, bringing in more modern elements while discarding many of the things from my old life with Chuck. I had curated Chuck’s belongings which were now stored, given way, or incorporated into my new life without him. It took a moment for me to realize that I no longer had to respect another’s opinions about the way I would be in my life, or how I was changing my home or where I would travel next. I just had myself to consult and only me to answer to.

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Soon, I realized that I wanted to put my thoughts down on paper so I began to write. I’d always written even as a child, poems and stories, and as an adult I had produced 2 cable TV shows and as a freelancer had written several fashion and restaurant reviews for local newspapers.The difference now was that I felt what I had to say was important. I wanted to express how I felt about my grieving experience, and I wanted to comfort and support others with their losses.

My grief journey connected me to my spirit and I became more in tuned with what it was that I wanted, needed, out of my life. I soon began to feel more engaged with life and it was more than a cathartic experience; it was as if I’d burst out of a bottle and into an HD life full of new ideas and ways of being alive.

After years of marriage a couple can hit a wall – it can happen after five, seven, 15, 20, or 30 years. All of a sudden one or both may question “if this is all there is”. The routine of one’s life, the banality of it can sometimes leave one or both feeling as though “something is missing”.

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For me,finding the missing pieces became the start of my new beginning, getting back to my artistic roots writing, being creative, while not having to consider another’s opinion. It happened that my answers came after my husband was gone and this was the catalyst for my evolution as I began to explore my life in new ways, uncovering my desires and needs apart from anyone else.

When you feel rumblings in your spirit, it doesn’t mean that you want to disconnect from or leave your marriage, but it’s a good idea to address what is tugging at your spirit. You may find that you might need to step back from your daily routine and do some soul searching for a while.Those rumblings when addressed are what help us to grow. It means that a change has to occur in the way one thinks or does things.If this does not occur voluntarily then it will be forced upon you.

Remember life is not meant to be stagnant. Change is a neccesary part of life, it is what adds depth, texture,meaning and color to being alive.

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Although I couldn’t figure out exactly what was going on when I felt these longings and desires for that “something that was missing”, while Chuck was alive, it was when I was alone that I was able to dispense with my daily routine of over 20 years and listen to what my spirit was trying to tell me.I eventually got back to being my creative self by writing, sewing, changing my home around and designing a new life for me.

When we are able to understand what is going on within us, we will begin to feel in harmony with life. It’s a good idea to take the time to listen to what your spirit wants you to know. I was able to let my spirit be the driving force of my new existence, as a woman and as a widow. It took me in a creative direction that ultimately healed me and helped me to heal others.

Who knows what my spirit would have told me had my husband continued to live.Who knows if I would’ve even listened. But either way the key to my happiness was to address the yanking of my spirit and not ignore it as it would lead me in the direction that I needed to go, which ultimately would better serve me, the higher good of my soul and all whom I reach out to help.

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Read more about how to get through the pain of the loss of a spouse Brave in a New World: A Guide to Grieving the Loss of a Spouse available on Amazon, and Lulu Publishing.com

 

The Transformative Power of Grief

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Several years ago I had a neighbor, whom I didn’t know very well. We would meet some mornings in our apartment building’s elevator. We were generally rushing to our jobs, but we were always very cordial to each other. She was an attractive young woman who dressed very stylishly. Her style was very conservative, classic and stylish and she always looked neat and prim. I liked her style, and we would compliment each other on our shoes, bags, outfits and so on, a lot of superficial, feel good morning blah, blah blah. She had a husband and one little son and from what I could see they were a nice little family. One day I noticed that her husband had lost weight. It didn’t seem unusual because we all were on the endless gym, run around the reservoir, diet hamster wheel in pursuit of health and fitness. Then, one day, someone mentioned to me that he had died. He’d battled cancer and now he was gone. This guy couldn’t have been any more than in his late 30’s, early 40s. After that, I would see the woman, my elevator friend, and she always looked pale, fragile and drawn, the new widow. She would stand in the corner of the elevator and it appeared as if she wanted to disappear into the wall. I didn’t know what to say to her really, but one day I told her I was sorry. She said thank you and she never spoke to me again after that.

The years went by and one day I saw she had a friend. He looked like a British rocker with one earring, spiky hair, very cool, funky and hip; the exact opposite of her conservatively styled now deceased husband. He was also of a different race, she being Asian and him Caucasian. The woman’s appearance  had also changed, she now had spikey hair; no longer neat and prim, now her clothes were hip, current and very downtown chic. When I saw her I thought, “Wow, that lady has gone crazy since her husband passed away. I mean she must’ve had a bit of a breakdown.” I just didn’t get it. I figured that her husband must be rolling over in his grave. I really didn’t know what that meant either, but it seemed an appropriate reactive thought. Eventually, I no longer saw her in the elevator, as she had moved away, off to a new life away from the old.

When I look back on that woman, having gone through what I’ve gone through since the death of my own husband, I realize now how little I understood about losing  a loved one and grief. I didn’t understand what one goes through nor did I really care. Losing a spouse had nothing to do with my life so how would I know or be interested in what a widow or widower goes through. After all, all the important men in my life were still alive at that point so, therefore, that whole scene was the farthest thing from my reality.

Losing a spouse is a transformative experience for the one who is left, and the changes that one goes through are an integral part of the grief journey. Some people remain fixed, frozen in time not able to move forward or evolve. Others, falsely believe that if they move on they will lose the essence of their deceased spouse, they will forget him or her or they will “betray” them. Others discover that another part of them emerges, seeking new experiences as well as searching for a new identity. As time goes on, they rediscover themselves minus their spouse. It’s all a part of the grieving journey, should one decide to embark on it.

There are many facets to human beings. Sometimes we’re not given an opportunity to explore all of who we are within our lifetime. After losing a life partner, one might have a desire to try a new hobby or travel to exotic far off places, search out new and different social connections, or go back to school. The death of a spouse, after the pain has started to subside, actually can inspire one to think about who they will be next, what they want to do next. The possibilities are limitless if we open ourselves up to the chance to reach for that unbearable lightness of being whomever we want to be, no holds barred. Rather than wallowing in one’s grief for the rest of  life, one must realize that there is an opportunity to transform one’s life and have a new beginning. This is what my neighbor did, I’m sure.

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It can be a little tricky if someone who has lost a spouse begins to make drastic changes in their lives.Well-meaning family, particularly in laws, and friends may not understand what their loved one is doing or going through. I would suggest that they keep a watchful eye, but to not interfere. When people grieve the first stage is the numb stage, and after they’ve moved through the tunnel it is as if they are awakening from a deep slumber.They have been sleeping wide awake. When they reawaken they begin the task of rediscovering themselves. They are  trying to make his or her way into their new world, bravely. The bereaved are, after all, still here “on the ground where it can be tough sometimes “, and after having gone through losing a spouse, they have a right to explore all possibilities for restarting life anew. This will take time, and those around should not set time limits on their loved one’s transformation after grief.

When my husband died, I redid our home to suit my own taste. To my surprise my own tastes were changing so I was able to make mistakes until I got it right. It was all a part of my personal evolution. I looked at my life and began to create a new one as I discarded the things that were no longer me, the old me. Everything became colored by my recent loss.I developed new preferences and tastes and discarded old ideas  that were no longer me, the new me. I became closer to some friends and more distant from others as my life took on a new shape. Some people remember you as you once were but, I soon discovered I needed people to see me as the new person I was becoming. Every change was a progression as I shed the skin of Yvonne as Chuck’s wife, and became me , Yvonne OMO (On My OWN).

There shouldn’t  be an expected code of behavior for the bereaved. They should be allowed to express themselves free from the criticism of others who expect the familiar. In fact those around should expect the unexpected. I am sure I am no longer anyone I ever was and I’m thrilled not to be, as I’m contented to be who I am now. The life-changing experience of losing my husband gave me an opportunity to be reborn. That same thing, I suspect, is what happened to my elevator friend. I understand everything now, and so much more.

When you are grieving you’re sleepwalking, but if one grieves consciously, he or she will begin to see the positive effects that a spouse’s passing can bring.There will be an opportunity to know more, to grow and to change, as one’s life should never be one of just passing through. I know that this is a different and new way of thinking about how a loss can be turned into something positive for those who are mourning. It is the opportunity for one to have a new beginning, finding yourself, your new self, being brave as you emerge anew. One can be transformed into a rock star or a rock; it’s a choice you’ve been given. Consider it a gift and a legacy from the one you’ve loved and lost. My advice is to always choose life.

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