Becoming A Listening Vessel

 

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When someone loses a spouse there will soon come a time when they will need someone else to listen to them as they mourn, asking rhetorical questions, telling their story of grief over and over and over again. I write about this often because it’s an important part of the griever’s journey, being able to talk to someone, and not be scolded, ignored, criticized or interrupted as they talk about what they’re going through.

When I was grieving and not really understanding what I was going through, I needed to tell somebody. I had taken an early retirement to care for my ailing husband. After he passed, I found that I was home when nearly everyone I knew was working so during the day, when things got really tough for me emotionally, I had very few people to talk to. Thank God for my brother in law, who had lost his brother, who shared the pain of the loss with me and we could talk to each other as if Chuck was still alive, neither one of us wishing to release him yet. It was an odd time for me also because there were moments when I wanted to talk, but most of the time I preferred to be alone rather than burdening anyone else with my sorrows.

Often, when people inquired about how I was doing, the conversation would invariably turn to them, telling their stories of painful childhoods, divorces, abandonment, separations and other emotional traumas they’d experienced in their lives. All of these  stories were totally unrelated to my experience, but I would listen politely nonetheless. And,of course, they would always end with a comment about how lucky I was to have had Chuck in my life or how I would get over “it” soon. These scenarios played out over and over again, until finally I decided to suffer in silence, as I began to feel “ashamed” for sharing my situation and I also began to feel that I should just be grateful for having had Chuck in my life. But, this is when I also was beginning to feel a transformation taking place within me as these occasional conversations began to complicate my raw feelings of grief. The insouciance on the part of some toward my  feelings didn’t sit well nor did it help to diminish my grief. In fact their actions had the opposite effect of compounding my feelings of grief with feelings of anger, and shame. At some point I would eventually distance myself from individuals who could not be there for me in the most giving and unselfish way. Being there for those who grieve is what I like to characterize as being a “listening vessel”.

I had a few friends  and relatives who could listen to me and encouraged me with stories of their own that were related to my particular situation.I was at a party the year of my loss and was talking to a friend who asked me how I had been.With my grief still raw, I shared the story of my loss and he listened for as long as I spoke without interrupting.And when I was done he offered condolences and heartfelt words of comfort. All of  those who were able to let me have my say, became my armchair therapists as I found my “sea legs”, acclimating myself to the long and rocky road ahead. They were my “listening vessels”.

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Not everyone is suited for that very role, and as we navigate the grief journey, we come to recognize those who can be there for us in that unique and special way. Empathy is not an ability that everyone can access. No blame is meant for those who can’t empathize, as many aren’t able to come to grips with their own grief , buried so deep, that it appears as if it no longer exists.

But I must tell you that falling apart is at the core, the essence of beginning to heal one’s brokenness. Unresolved issues always remain. Feeling the pain plays a part in beginning the process of healing wounds suffered long ago. When many people are confronted with the tears, hurts and the anguish of another, they do not want to be drawn into another’s pain for fear of “catching that feeling” thus tumbling down their own rabbit hole to face their own longstanding losses and grievances.

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I did have a very small number of friends to whom I was able to talk and repeat my unanswerable questions and emotional torment to. They listened, interjected stories related to  Chuck and Chuck and me. Sometimes they even helped to answer questions that lingered still. When I would walk away or hang up the phone from these very special individuals, their willingness to patiently listen was a restorative gift to my soul.Dealing with long-term hurts and losses, crying about them, writing about them, thinking about them, making peace with them is what opens one up to be able to be there with empathy for others. That is the making of a strong man or woman. Holding ‘it’ in actually creates people who are bitter, cold, angry, and emotionally distant. These are the people who wish for the bereaved to be done with their tears. Holding it in, pushing the pain away, keeping that stiff upper lip does not a strong human make. Holding on to hurts and losses will actually chip away at your spirit over time. Your body, no matter what physical shape it is in, will soon have to deal with those issues in ways we cannot predict. The key is to avoid being forced to deal with one’s inner emotional pain.

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When my husband could no longer move and was confined to his bed, I was tasked with being caretaker and “Dr.” on a daily basis. As his final days were drawing near, he was in terrible, silent agony and thankfully I had a hotline in the evenings to call whenever I felt a need for assistance. I did not want my husband to suffer or feel the pain and I wanted to help him more than anything. I ended up using that hotline several evenings a week. The people on the other end, mostly women, always showed concern and great empathy and in those last weeks I came to learn  that they “knew” what I was going through.These amazing women were not medical professionals, a fact which I learned when I called to thank them after my husband had passed. I expressed to one woman that I was grateful for her knowledge and assistance. Her answer was simple, “It’s what we do, because we all know……we’ve been there.”Widows and widowers giving back to those who are “on that road”. They knew what to do and say because they’d all been down that road themselves.

Some people lack empathy, and it is something one would have to work on developing but that, of course, is one’s choice. However, if people begin to work on their buried losses, grief and sorrows and deal with the pain, then that will create an opportunity for them, in turn, to offer to others the love, grace and mercy that they need in order for them to heal after loss.

Holding it in delays the inevitability of  having to put closure on deep rooted sorrows. The act of holding in grief, stuffing it, may seem to create a calm exterior, which belies an inner turmoil that no one else can see. Being able to have someone listen to your “story”, even if that listener is you, will help to ease your pain. It also helps to bring closure as well as open up the ability for you to empathize with others and become the listening vessels we all need.

 

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Author’s Note: Please leave your comments.I love to hear your stories of  grief, healing love, loss and new beginnings.

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

Finding Your Way after Losing a Spouse

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In the beginning……

I had several landmark events that occurred during my husband’s bout with Stage IV pancreatic cancer. I had a milestone birthday the December before he died. Many friends came together and surprised me with a beautiful party, but I missed not having my husband there by my side, as he was at home, in hospice care.Several months earlier, I had retired from my profession as an art teacher, having decided to give all my attention to  caring for my husband Chuck.

I remember traveling downtown to “put in my papers,” and after my exit interview when I stood up to leave the retirement office, the gentleman who had been assisting me said, “Congratulations you are now retired. You should know that this will be the start of a new way of living.”

I left, caught a cab and, as the car drove past New York’s Ground Zero on a misty rainy afternoon, I wasn’t sure how I should be feeling. I had been doing a really good job of holding in my feelings for quite some time, but, on this day, I had mixed emotions, which were beginning to seep through the seams.

I wasn’t really able to celebrate, but I wanted to cry and did shed a tear as I headed toward home to my unknown future. I felt sad and slightly excited, but this was all against the backdrop of my husband and his illness, which was an ever-present shadow looming in the background.

Years later, when I would look back on those occasions that might’ve called for me,under normal circumstances, to be happy, I felt that everything had been tainted. The reality of the events that were taking place in my life was a joy killer that snatched away even the slightest feeling of joy.But one thing I knew for sure,it wasn’t my husband’s fault. We were at the mercy of circumstances that didn’t ask permission to be invited into our lives.

Just a year earlier, in the summer of 2007, I had surprised Chuck with a wonderful party on the rooftop of a brand-new Manhattan restaurant on the occasion of his 60th birthday. It was truly a perfect day. The weather was perfect and some 40 friends joined us for food, drink and the best, best music.

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Celebrating my husband

I had organized everything and my son, stepped up and finalized the arrangements. On the evening of the event, my husband was so shocked by the surprise that he literally gasped as he saw familiar faces greeting him with birthday greetings and love.

Little did we know that this would be the final time most of these folks would see Chuck alive. Just some five months down the road we would have our lives turned upside down by a diagnosis of volcanic proportions. I was glad that at least we had been able to have a grand fete with our closest friends and family before the impending tidal wave engulfed us.

I became anxious, nervous and extremely depressed. I didn’t know how to stop my dive into the depths of despair.I missed my husband and tried to make sense of the loss.He was really gone, period. I was still here but fading.

Although I didn’t have any widow or widower friends at that time, I’ve since encountered many people who’ve lost a spouse. They too can identify with feelings of emptiness, isolation, numbness and depression. They do not know how they can go on, how they will survive, how they will handle the pain or how they can make the pain go away.Some men and women, especially women, feel it is a betrayal to let go of the pain, so they hang on for dear life, rejecting suggestions of ways that they can honor their spouse but begin to rebuild their lives.

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I didn’t know what to expect as I thought my extraordinary feelings were part of a new normal for me. Eventually, however, I knew I couldn’t go on feeling vulnerable, anxious, and depressed indefinitely. So, I took the following steps to begin to move my life forward:

Here are a few suggestions of things to think about doing as you begin to rebuild your life:

  • Individual counseling. This helped immensely, especially in the very beginning after the loss. My wounds were fresh and I felt as though I was about to fall off the face of the earth. I learned coping skills that assisted me with the grieving process including, visualization exercises, meditation, “talking” to my husband and feeling the pain.
  • Group counseling
  • Connecting with friends and family
  • Staying active and exercising
  • Seeking medical and alternative medical assistance as needed.
  • Silence…just being alone and quiet became a sacred time for me to spend with my thoughts and to cry. During this time I meditated, prayed and had “conversationswith Chuck”. I soon learned to keep my eyes on the target that no one else but I could see as I began to recreate my life, bit by bit.

No matter what anybody else thinks,you know yourself best. You can devise a plan to help yourself rebuild your life and no one has to have input into that plan except you.Regaining my strength and vitality, being able to transform the pain from the loss of my husband into forever memories was my goal. I did not think that that was possible in the beginning, but little by little as I set aside time for myself, I was able to move my life forward.Then, one day, I realized that the sun was shining brighter and I no longer felt his absence when I entered my home. I was embarking on a new journey alone.

It’s been several years now since I began this overwhelming healing journey and so you might ask, “Do you still have feelings of sorrow even now?” The answer is yes but it’s a far cry from the day-to-day sadness that I experienced for months and years, now so long ago.


For those who have young children to care for or work outside the home, I would suggest that before you go to sleep take a little time to grieve. Purchase some DVDs on meditation and yoga, or go to an actual yoga class. Try journaling your thoughts and writing down your dreams especially, those that involve your lost spouse.You may find a message or an answer in the dream that helps you to begin to feel a bit better. These are a few mindfulness practices that can help to ease you through the grief journey.

During this time, your friends and family, out of concern for your well-being, may urge you to grieve quickly. There is no such thing as grieving quickly. Take all the time that you need to heal yourself.There are many online grief support groups and social media forums that did not exist when I lost my husband several years ago. These support communities will assist in helping one feel less isolated. Remember, be patient with yourself and understand that by connecting with others, you will soon find that you are not alone.

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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 or at LULU Publishing.com http://tinyurl.com/pesxa6e

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

 

Finding Joy… Again and Again

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I believe that being happy is not so far-fetched.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. 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 kindhearted. 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 teach others the building blocks for laying the groundwork for creating a fruitful life, from his perspective. He did not necessarily feel happiness, but more a sense of gratification and 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.

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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 do believe that being able to feel joy has to do with how we were raised, our life experiences and how we internalize and eventually 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 down into another person’s emotional response to situations that are good and positive…like quicksand. 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. 

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Of course we may not be happy everyday, but we will experience periodic satisfaction and contentment and that is more than we could ever hope for as we live and face life’s challenges. In life there are highs and lows, and as we get older we will find that having a great thing happen one week and a sad thing happen the next increases in frequency.

When we grieve, we will eventually one day feel a little change take place. Something will make us laugh again and eventually we will experience a shift until we are feeling like our “new self”, unlike our old self. Along with this new self-awareness will also be the acknowledgment that we’re beginning to see a light at the end of the tunnel of grief.The goal is to one day become immersed in that metaphorical light. Soon we will also realize that we’re feeling less grim and more optimistic about where we are in our lives. We will begin to appreciate the path we’ve been on and how far we’ve come.

Remember, as written by William Ernst Henley in Invictus, and one of my husband’s most favorite quotes,we are “the captains of our own ship, the masters of our own fates and our thoughts and feelings are our destiny”. After loss, do not be afraid to feel better again. You will not be betraying your lost loved one and you will actually be being true to who you are: a human being who is still here. Don’t give up on life as it will never give up on you.

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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 and thank you for your continued support of my efforts to help others to heal after loss.

Do It Anyway and Show Up for Yourself

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Many, many years ago  a friend of mine was going through a rough patch in her life. We were due to go out to an event when she called to cancel. I  empathized with her, but was also disappointed at the prospect of leaving her behind. So I told her to put on some lipstick, get dressed and come out even though she was feeling blue, and she did just that.

We went to our event and much to her surprise she managed to enjoy herself immensely. Getting out gave her a chance to get her mind off of her troubles and to show up for herself. She found herself feeling better about her situation and was glad that she had given in to going to the event which ended up being a distraction from her problems. Several years later she would remind me of that time and thanked me for urging her to “put on some lipstick and get out” despite how she was feeling. She said that that became her mantra and that she would fall back on that small bit of advice whenever situations stopped her in her tracks.

I have the kind of personality that when I’m sad or despondent, I do not bury my feelings. I will not burden anyone else with my sadness or distress, but I allow myself to lean into the doleful mood of the moment. When I was grieving for my lost husband, I wept mournfully practically all the time. I would not hold it in when I was alone as innately, I somehow knew,that getting it out was essential for my mental wellness and physical well-being.

In the beginning of my grief journey I stepped back from any extracurricular activities. I could barely speak at times, and so texting would eventually become a great way for me to communicate as I began to get used to my new normal. Then one day I was invited to join friends on an outing.I could barely get my feet out of bed, but I forced myself to put one foot in front of the other, get myself together and join pals, despite how low I felt.I would continue to push myself to join in different friends’ activities until one day my veil of grief had been lifted.

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Participating in a variety of activities with friends became a much needed distraction for me. I needed a break from my daily painful grief and mourning. I continued to show up for myself, even though when I would return home my house felt empty and hollow and I would again be overcome by my sadness.

Then, one day, I came home and realized that the shroud of emptiness and grief had been lifted. I had made changes to my home and each change blurred the edges of my old existence, my former life with my husband Chuck. By doing this I had made room for my new life and my “new beginning”. I would eventually begin to feel alive again with renewed hope and optimism.This was a long and painful process, but I got through it.

Oftentimes people become consumed with situations they find themselves in, and as if in quicksand, they cannot pull themselves out of a trying situation. It becomes all-consuming and remaining in bed under the covers, seems like the best solution until one’s emotions settle down. But who knows when that will happen? Going out, being among friends, “faking it”, it seems like the last thing one would want to do when grieving after the loss of a spouse. Wallowing in one’s misery, isolated from the rest of the world, is not only desirable but a comfort.

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I would suggest that the way to begin to get a handle on one’s life as one grieves is to do just that, fake it until you make it . No matter how bad you feel, no matter how much you hurt, get up, pull yourself together and show up for yourself. As you continue this ritual of making yourself do “something” every day, you will eventually reap the long term benefits. Ultimately those benefits will be:

1.Getting past the pain of loss

2.Allowing the distractions to help you to heal

3 Creating new relationships.

4.Recognizing who your are becoming as your grief journey transforms you.

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All of these ameliorating actions will serve as strengthening building blocks which will push you out of the dark  and  into your new beginning. It will not happen overnight. It will take as much time as you need.  Focusing on yourself is essential but can also turn into a morbid self indulgence that can be more harmful than good.

So when you feel that you are stuck in your grief and despair, get up…get out and do it anyway. Showing up for yourself will serve you very well in the end and push you toward your new beginning.

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

They Are with Us More Now

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My husband Chuck and I were very busy people. We had our respective careers and essentially, like other baby boomers, we worked hard at working hard. We were parents and we were children of living parents.

Before we got married, Chuck and I spent most weekends together and sometimes he surprised me with a visit after work during the weekday. He was a venture capitalist then, working at his own company and teaching business and finance in local colleges in the evenings.

I always looked forward to my time with Chuck. We would spend weekends at his apartment talking about life and our future. We talked about our pasts as we continued to get to know each other. We loved watching new movies and old ones. Chuck was a movie buff, and the first time I watched Breakfast at Tiffany’s was at his apartment. He was shocked that I had never seen that movie, and I discovered that that movie reminded me of myself in a lot of ways. It reminded him of me as well, oh but then I do digress.

Eventually we developed our own rituals and traditions, many of which occurred in the summertime. Trips to Connecticut dropping my son Karim off at camp, and then, childless for two months we’d explore the surrounding environs. We took trips to Massachusetts, DC, Michigan, Chicago,Louisiana, N.C., Hilton Head, Sag Harbor,Narragansett, Block Island…….various and sundry places, traveling along together and growing closer.

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Once we were married we began to suffer from a scarcity of time. Although we did things together, and still continued with our summer vacations, time spent wasn’t of the same quality as before. Life changing events happened so quickly out of the blue back then; Chuck’s mom was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s; Chuck’s dad became ill as well. Chuck’s sister moved away from New York, she, having been the spirit and soul of our family.

As the years went on my father became ill and would pass away in 2005. I mourned him sorely for a long while until Chuck was diagnosed with cancer. It was then that I had to be able to switch gears from silent mourning for my dad to caring for my husband. Little did we know, that the tenor of our life together was being tested and would soon be disrupted by a major challenge. Our day to day lives changed too, as did our time with each other.We were focused more on the sudden changes in our families that were taking place, than on quality time between the two of us.

The long year spent as my husband’s caregiver was consumed with his care and well being more than our relationship. He was so ill, bravely soldiering on and, although I was still working, I made sure that all his needs were met. It was tough, and I’m sure I fell short in a lot of ways, but I did my best. I got support from his family, my family, my colleagues and friends. There was no time to spend focusing on us, as I was on a mission to save my husband’s life as it slowly slipped away.

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Eventually, Chuck died and herein lies the irony. I began to talk to Chuck, to dream of him, to write to him and about him. I asked him questions, told him things that were on my heart. I thought of him all the time until he became a part of my daily being. He remained with me wherever I went. All the memories of him kept me close to him…awake, asleep…. asleep, awake. Then one day I came to an odd realization that in many ways I was closer to Chuck in death than I had been in life.

The everyday busy-ness of our lives prevented us from re-creating our premarital closeness. But now in death, now that he was no longer alive, he was closer to me than ever before. His spirit was or had become a part of me. He had become my eternal partner, somewhere in the ether…free to summon whenever I wished.

This is the odd but true legacy that I’ve gained since my husband’s death. It’s a gift out of my great loss, albeit a bittersweet one with a lesson for others: Love your partner….cherish and care for them while they are with you here, in the flesh. Time spent with each other should be more important than time spent with anyone else, because in love matters, love matters and when they’re gone, they’re gone.

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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

Do No Harm

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As I embarked on my grieving journey I had no idea what to expect. I didn’t even know that I would be on a journey, as I like to characterize my long period of grieving after my husband passed away. It was truly a sad, lonely and terrifying time. I begged God for relief and then stopped talking to Him altogether. I felt abandoned and full of despair.

In the early stages of my grieving (which lasted for many,many months…years really), I would recall the period when Chuck was ill. Even when I dreamt of him, which was very infrequently (almost never today) I would,initially, have dreams of an ill Chuck, mute, but bearing silent messages.

When Chuck was ill, there were many things I would have wanted to say to him. I wanted to bring up how if he had done this this way or not done such and such that way maybe his predicament could’ve been avoided. I wanted to scream at him actually and list the things I felt might’ve changed his plight. But alas, I held my tongue as I felt to add insult to injury would only have caused him more pain. I loved my husband with every fiber in my body and to do him more harm with words, just to get the anger off my chest , would have been cruel and insensitive. Chuck didn’t ask for deadly cancer, and he was already in excruciating pain, so I decided it was best to let him go in peace. It was, after all about him, not about me.

After Chuck was gone, I ranted and railed at God, as I tried to make sense of the random act of craziness that had swept into our lives and disrupted our family. I remained angry with God for a long, long time. Once I was asked what I thought God felt about my being angry with Him. I answered, “God is God,He can take it… and He will still love me anyway.” God’s love is unconditional  and I had to practice unconditional love toward my spouse as I held back on things that were on the tip of my tongue.

On the flip-side, I had a few people who said rather insensitive things to me after Chuck died. Here’s a few examples: “You’re still wearing your wedding band?”, “I’m like you, because since my divorce/separation,which is also a loss…….”, “You’re so lucky, my life has been not nearly as lucky as yours because of these circumstances in my life” (then the person proceeds to list the not so great things that have occurred in their life,always ending with)”… and at least you had your time with Chuck”. Most of the time I didn’t know how to respond to these comments. Generally I would say nothing, but I slowly distanced myself as I didn’t want to be the recipient of insensitive comments from folks who thought they were being well-meaning.I also felt that people wanted to show that they understood when really, they did not. The words that were chosen were at best insensitive and at worst really stung.I was already in pain and didn’t want that pain compounded by thoughtless epitaphs.

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As I would soon encounter others who had suffered the loss of a spouse, one of the most common threads amongst all of us was how we all took umbrage with the insensitive and thoughtless things that people said to us.Sometimes, surprisingly, it would come from those who were close, those whom you would expect to tread softly on your fresh wound. At other times comments came from those who were well-intentioned but truly missed the mark.

I would suggest that if someone has experienced the loss of a spouse or loved one, the person offering condolences should select one’s words very carefully. After loss, most of the time, the grieving are in a state of shock, even if they seem to be handling everything.They’re not looking for shock therapy, but for compassion.If you care for your friend or family member you really shouldn’t want to add insult to injury by saying things that add to their pain. Some people are not like me and will lash out, others like me will back off. It’s a very vulnerable, precarious time for one who grieves and as he/she makes their way through uncharted waters, they will experience internal changes that will have personal far reaching effects as they move their lives forward.

The death of a spouse is a life-altering experience, as it should be. Be thoughtful, gentle, kind, no comparisons to divorces, and separations. Death is death and is unequal to any other known human experience in its finality. Every loss by death is different, never equal, or worse, just different.

God is the only one who can take it. You can rant and rail and scream at Him and He will love you anyway. However, you can’t get away with that with mere mortals, especially when they are in an altered state. Be thoughtful, mindful of the hurt and pain they’re going through. Be kind, gentle, hold your tongue, watch your words…….. do no harm.

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Read more in Brave in a New World: A Guide to Grieving the Loss of a Spouse               available on Amazon http://tinyurl.com/jnjs5fu

After Grief : Change Is on The Way

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I can say undeniably,that I am no longer the person I once was since the death of my husband. However, it has taken me many years to be able to look back  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 and respecting a partner’s point of view is a good way  to have a harmonious marriage…give and take….oh but then, I do digress.

There are very few 50/50 relationships. Oh, people 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 bond is the key underpinning of all successful marriages.

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 bear 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 pain of  personal trials so as not to get stuck at a fork in the road.

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 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. But in the end, our collective 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, longterm 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 change. 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 of hope. 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 was not in the cards for me and 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.

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. Remember, after loss, (although hard to understand 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 all 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

Grief and Loss: On Losing Friends

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I grew up in Brooklyn, New York with that one famous tree, nearly a half century ago, which makes me at least a half century old (give or take a few centuries). One of my closest friends at that time was a girl named Beverly who lived diagonally across the street  from where I lived. She was very,very bright(what we called an egghead in those days) kind, good, and my dearest friend. My parents loved her and her family. lthough we didn’t attend the same schools, we did things together whenever we had some time,in between our studies.Image result for a tree in prospect park

Beverly’s life couldn’t have been more different from my own. She was one of three children and she had two brothers who were born profoundly developmentally disabled. One of her siblings lived at home and because he could not care for himself, Beverly’s mom had to do everything for him. Daily, her mom and dad would lift the brother to put him in his chair or bathe him or to carry him to the many physical therapy activities that he was a part of. Beverly’s parents’ life was difficult, but through it all their complete pride and joy was their daughter.They were very proud of Beverly as she was extremely book smart,worked very hard in school and won many scholastic awards.

Her dad felt that because of the circumstances of their family, he could not recognize any holidays. He felt that God had dealt them a raw deal and therefore there was no room for any celebrations of any traditional holidays. Their house was quiet but for the sounds that Beverly’s brother made,as his only way of communicating was by screaming or grunting. The atmosphere was cold ,very austere, sparsely decorated and somewhat devoid of good cheer, but Beverly managed to thrive as this was the family she was born into and she did not know from anything else.

My home, on the other hand, consisted of four very noisy  children, me being the oldest. Completely the opposite of Beverly’s as we were always busy, and at any given moment the house was filled with all kinds of music from jazz to classical, political meetings, music from the piano that my sister played so well, holiday gatherings and parties celebrating some academic achievement, a communion or a birthday. When holidays approached, us kids were always filled with excitement in anticipation of the tree, the Easter bunny, or some out of town relative who just dropped in unexpectedly. When we were happy, we were happy, no half stepping about it, and Beverly would soon be a part of our happy times together. It wasn’t long before she would join us regularly at Christmas.When I gave her a Christmas gift one year she said she’d never received one before. My parents came to love her like a second daughter and her parents looked at me as the same.

Sometimes, Beverly and I would do things with our dads.Packing a picnic, going to the Philharmonic in Prospect Park and listening to Leonard Bernstein was one example of how we would hang out together during our teen years.Although I was never allowed to attend neighborhood parties, I recall the time Beverly was invited to a party given by a school chum and she asked my parents if I could come along. My parents said it would be okay and they decided that her father would drive us and my father would pick us up. I remember I made a cute little black velveteen dress to wear to this party and I was so looking forward to going. Well as fate would have it Beverly’s dad drove us to the party and we got stuck in traffic (but we had to be back home by 12 midnight, kinda like Cinderella). There were no cell phones in those days and so we weren’t able to call my father and tell him that he should arrive a little later. We finally arrived at the party at about 11:30 and at 12 midnight on the dot my father was there to to pick us up and take us home. We were so upset but that was life in those days with no cell phones and a limited, very managed social life.

She and I also shared family ties, well, sorta. Her aunt and uncle lived in the suburban town of Hempstead, N.Y., coincidentally, as it turned out, directly across the street from my Aunt Eloise and Uncle Rupert. So we sometimes traveled on the Long Island Railroad together, or one of our dads drove us out to the island, she visiting her relatives and me visiting mine. Since my Aunt and her’s traveled in the same Links, Jack and Jill, Boule social circle, that made our family ties even more acceptable, especially to my aunt.

As time progressed Beverly and I maintained our close friendship throughout our undergrad and graduate schools years. She would one day introduce me to someone who would become my new best friend as the ensuing years transformed our own closeness.

Beverly would get married twice, the first time I was her maid of honor.As time wore on we eventually went our separate ways, both of us pursuing our own paths,making new friends, becoming entrenched in our professional pursuits, pursuing the dreams that were important to each of us.

From time to time, I would think about Beverly and wonder what she was doing. About a month before my husband passed away in Dec. of 2008, I was at a party and met a young woman who had graduated from Bryn Mawr. I told her that one of my dearest friends had graduated from there  many years before, and I wondered about her whereabouts. Not long after that conversation this young woman sent me Beverly’s current information. I was surprised to learn that she had moved to Seattle. I took the info,tucked it away and promised to revisit it at some point.

My husband had been ill, subsequently died and I was soon caught up in my own grief vortex. I would look at that paper from time to time, and tell myself I’d get to it until one day when I decided that I would give her a call I could no longer find the information.

A few weeks ago I decided to Google her and after trying her name several ways, I decided to add PhD. You can only imagine my surprise when up popped her obituary. I was stunned, as I read the short notice which gave few clues to her life for the past few decades.

I readily began to mourn my childhood friend of long ago.You see, although we had been out of touch, she had been an integral part of my adolescent life. We were best friends, parent approved,and shared secrets and dreams and trips together. She even took a trip with me and my grandmother to Montréal one summer and we had a really wonderful time. I remember going to visit her in Philly when she was still in undergrad school and meeting up with mutual friends, spending the time having fun. I was young, I was free and I had my whole life ahead of me and Beverly shared that part of my life with me. I mourned the fact that Beverly had been a part of my world when I was very young and we were both at the beginning of everything. I mourned the memories as I wondered what her life had been like.

Luckily, I was able to connect with a friend of her’s who filled me in on the past several decades of her life. She had lived in various cities in the Northeast, she continued her work as a practicing psychiatric social worker and teacher. She married again, divorced a second time and finally settled in Seattle.Beverly was principled and well-respected. She’d even adopted a son. She battled various forms of cancer in recent years which finally consumed her.Her son was her life and she put in place people to look after him as she realized that she was not long for this world.

I appreciated her friend’s recounting and sharing with me Beverly’s life that didn’t include me. We had gone our separate ways but the impact she’d had on my life came back to me in a flood of memories: picnics, tennis, many outings sometimes shared with our now long gone dads, horseback riding, Links luncheons every year the day before Easter, and visits to our respective families together. Fun filled times with common adolescent girls’ chatter,hiding insecurities,sharing hopes and dreams. She was able to find love twice and pour all that she had into her work and her son. I am happy that she created a good life for herself and that she made her parents proud. I am happy that we shared time together on this planet in our youth, before we stepped into the lives that awaited each of us.

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In 2019 I lost 2 very good friends finding out about both deaths after the fact.My friend Patricia LaPlante Collins, and my friend Bruce Williams.They were both an integral part of my growing up life, at various times in my life. Patricia and I favored each other so people always thought she was a part of my family. And although she was not an easy personality, my parents embraced her and she loved my family so much that she was flattered when people mistakenly thought she was a daughter. She came to all my son’s early birthday parties and was a great auntie to him. We shared many amazing times together as she was a grand party hostess, a very capable gourmet cook and and fun to be around, albeit in small doses. I remember one evening, when my baby son Karim was in the hospital with the croup, my mother and I were leaving the hospital on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan. It was a freezing night and the streets were so icy that the 5th Avenue bus kept slipping onto the sidewalk.What a scary ride! As it approached the transverse that would lead us home, the bus driver announced that it was closed. My mother and I got off on 86th St. and 5th Ave. I called Patricia from a phone booth (no cell phones in those days) and she invited us up to wait for awhile. I went to the now long gone Madison Avenue Deli bought some pastries and we spent the next couple of hours in Patricia’s lovely apartment laughing, sharing stories and enjoying time together.

Bruce was an early boyfriend fromthe early 70’s and although we would eventually part ways, he remained a part of my life, reappearing now and then.When I was in my first apt, and my roommate left to live with her boyfriend, leaving me in a lurch, it was Bruce who offered to take me away on a short vacation because he knew that I was under great stress, having to move suddenly out of the blue. After all, he had helped me move into that Brooklyn brownstone and he felt badly that I was suddenly scrambling to find new digs (which I did find readily in Manhattan ).When my parents were in the Peace Corps and I was gathering items to send to them, he took the items to them in Jamaica where they were stationed. When My dad was in a nursing home with Alzheimer’s, Bruce, who was then an occupational therapist, would come and check on him and make sure his mobility devices were up to code. He would remind my dad of when we would all played tennis together. So many memories of my friend who’s friendship I had cherished.

I have a bit of regret that I was not able to connect with Beverly, but knowing that her life was full in all the areas that she desired does give me a sense of satisfaction. As for Patricia and Bruce, whom I loved, I wish them all  well where they’ve landed next, and as I weep for my friends, gone in the prime of their lives, I know that they are free of pain and soaring in that infinite place of calm and serenity that we all  wish for and seek, even here on earth.

 

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

Embracing the Pain of Loss

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No one wants to have his or her heart broken. When you lose a spouse the pain can be excruciating, unpredictable and relentless. This harsh deep hurt can also be accompanied by anxiety and fear.

People do not want to feel the pain that accompanies loss after losing someone they love. It’s understandable that there are many who wish to shield themselves from it. Why? Because it hurts. Sometimes the pain is so excruciating and debilitating that it can even manifest itself as actual body aches.

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But what if I were to suggest that maybe it’s better to lean into the pain rather than shy away from it?

Although we may not always be able to embrace the pain of loss, confronting it is better than ignoring it. When you push it away,it never really goes anywhere. Then one day when least expected those old painful feelings that one mistakenly thought were gone,will make themselves known and demand to be dealt with.

When I began to grieve, I did not know what to expect. Once I was in the throes of my grief journey I knew that it was an experience like no other.
At some point I found myself feeling as if I was whirling in a tunnel with no way out. The grief and sorrow became my shadow following me wherever I went. I soon began to feel that this was the beginning of my new normal forever and I just made up my mind to relinquish control and surrender to it.
But surprising and unexpected events happened along the way as I lived my “new normal”. In my case, my healing was connected to my interactions with others: friends,family and strangers.

As I created new routines for myself, I began to encounter people who I might never have had a chance to meet under other circumstances. Sometimes they’d share an observation, or insight or a personal memory that would give me a new perspective on my own life. Because I was able to find the strength, even as I suffered, to live life simultaneously with grieving, eventually I would see an opening in the grief tunnel which encouraged me to keep pushing forward. I soon began to understand that I could get through the muck and mire as long as I persisted.

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Persist, embrace,mourn, persist, embrace,mourn…..this is the path that I followed as I grieved.

We are born into a world where we are not immune to life’s adversities and misfortunes or death. Some people endure much more than their share, but we must trust that there will be a light that will guide us along the way. When we lose a spouse or someone else we’ve loved, although the initial pain can be unbearable, one’s acquiescence, will actually be the very thing that heals.

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We must face the pain of grief

By facing our grief and sorrow, we will find that the road to healing will be made straight in less time than we can imagine.

Remember, your spouse is sad that they had to leave, but their life is done and they want you to go on and live the rest of your’s the way that you were meant to. So don’t be afraid to explore new possibilities, don’t be afraid to take chances as you rebuild a new life on your own.
Although we think we can delay suffering, there is no avoiding it.The pain will always remain and at some point will need to be faced.In the end, leaning into the pain is when true healing takes place.

 

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