After Loss: Change Is on The Way

Full Moon for Strength and Healing - Somya Devi Vedic Astrology

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s up to you.

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

   New Year…New Beginnings

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Don’t allow this new year to be another missed opportunity to make changes that improve the conditions of your life. Being busy with a variety of activities is a good start to activating your new way of living. But nothing can compare to time alone, without distractions, as you think about who you are becoming at this moment in time and how you want that life to be. As long as we are able to fall asleep nightly and awaken to a new day, we’ll  always be able to start over. Use this new year, in the time of this pandemic as a time to mark your new beginning. Become introspective, no matter how uncomfortable that may feel, and then make the changes that will help you to feel productive, alive and whole again, or  possibly, even for the first time.

 

                        Happy New Year                                       

                                               

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

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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.

Anniversaries: Making Progress

Exiting St.Paul’s Chapel to resounding applause.

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

Chuck waiting as I entered the Chapel

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

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

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

Never happier, never felt more loved.

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

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

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


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

Part of my wedding party.That was a time.

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

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

The darkest nights reflect the brightest stars.” Rumi

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

                       

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

Stories of Hope and Renewal -Bob Ellison

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Change is the Next Big Thing

 

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Change is what helps us to grow.The good, the bad, the ordinary…all of it. I think of countless folks who never change and never grow and defeat the whole point of their existence. Life is not for naught and it is meant to be purpose driven…that is what I believe. Good things happen and bad things happen and how we choose to deal with every trauma, or triumph is what will teach, empower and inform our experience here on earth, so that we can understand why we’re here and not get stuck in the bad stuff .Once we have overcome a challenge we are then able to move forward toward what I refer to as the next big thing. Discovering new ways of thinking, being open to other ideas and approaches to living, not being afraid to be vulnerable, letting go of the past and embracing life, is what we all should do in order to create a life that’s full of meaning, purposeful, peaceful, enlightening and full of joy.

For many years, nearly 20, I suffered with fibroid tumors. They were uncomfortable and caused me intermittent pain. I tried all sorts of treatments to “cure them” including herbal remedies, exercises, yoga, and even prayer. I managed to keep everything in check almost 20 years, thus avoiding the surgeon’s knife.

In 1996, my husband Chuck and I decided to separate; we were having “irreconcilable differences”. The latest Blackish episode where Bow expresses how she and Dre are very different, aptly portrays how Chuck and I were feeling about each other at that time in our marriage, so separate we did. Although initially it was a trial separation, after a few months I began to actually think that Chuck and I weren’t going to be able to reconcile and I began to get used to the idea of rebuilding my life without him.

About eight months after Chuck and I had split, I began to suffer from excessive bleeding and pain due to the fibroids, I lost weight, my periods were extended and finally my gynecologist, the wonderful, late Dr. Meredith Sirmans, informed me that I would have to have surgery. When I called Chuck to tell him, more of an FYI, he listened and then a few hours later he called me back and said that he wanted to come home to take care of me. It was a moment in time that changed everything for us. He came bearing gifts, a trip to Paris (which had to be postponed due to the imminence of my surgery). But most importantly he promised to work on our relationship and I promised him back. He was the best caregiver in the whole wide world. He cooked dinner, made me soups, he kept me company and made sure I was at peace. He told me funny stories and he reminded me of the bond that we had created and we were about to re-create again in new and different ways. On some days my father would come to bring me fried liver with onions because Chuck and he both felt that it would help to build up my blood. My recovery was extended and a little tough but the two most important men in my life loved and supported me back to health. I truly miss them both.

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When the operation was delayed, because I had to be transfused, Chuck was in the hospital with a dozen doughnuts and ate practically all of them,(my son and I still joke about that). He did not want to show his fear to me but I felt his love and caring more than ever then.After that period of separation, coming back together and renewal, I knew that I was meant to become ill just at that time and not before.It was the right time for my precarious health situation became the catalyst for change in my marriage. This was a change for the better that would spark  a renewed belief in our marriage bond as we began the next 10 year journey more connected and unwittingly preparing for the biggest challenge in our two lives. This, of course would begin in December 2007.

When Chuck passed away, my body seemed to fall apart. I began to have small aches and pains which increased and I felt as though I was no longer in control of my life. Three years later I would have to have major surgery on my knee. Without my husband you can only imagine the fear and loneliness I felt at the prospect of facing another major surgery, only this time alone. Thankfully I had close male friends who intuited how I must have been feeling and offered support and advice. At this point I’d been toying around with the idea of writing a book about my widow experience in order to assist other widows and I was still grieving sorely.

After the successful surgery and as I recovered from it, I found that I was entering a new phase of my grief recovery. Each step I took with my new knee represented a step toward the light and my new beginning. Everything in my life had changed and I was changing with it.
While my husband was in hospice care at home the end of 2008, a new shopping venue had been developing in my neighborhood. I wondered if Chuck would live to see. He did not. But as new stores became a part of the changing landscape I had mixed feelings of missing the old although I was curious about the new.

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As my leg healed and when I was able to get around more, I would limp to the new home decor store and stroll around it admiring the various items as well as shopping for some new additions for my own home, which was slowly being transformed. Soon the Home Goods store on my newly renovated avenue had somehow contributed to my well-being and renewal of hope. I was beginning to understand what retail therapy was all about.

There are catalysts for change and hope in all our lives. If we look back on our lives we will see how life’s occurrences propel or connect us to the next change coming around the bend. We have a choice as to whether to accept the events that can transform our way of being thinking and living or to remain inert, unable to get past the past.

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I have had many more  signs in my time here on earth that my life was about to take a turn. Simultaneous occurrences of events became metaphors for a specific theme that characterized my life at a certain point in time. Everything that has occurred in my life, particularly my life with Chuck and even his death, have helped me to heal or given me new opportunities to grow. These are temporal episodes which, depending on how we handle them, offer opportunities for change.We must not linger long in the past as we may end up stuck there. Sometimes the change doesn’t feel good, and can be very devastating, but I can assure you that whatever situations we encounter in life (and we all will) they are always for one’s higher purpose, growth and better good.

I can feel a change coming now leading me forward to a new thing on the horizon. After having dealt with trials and tribulations, joy and victory, I’ve chosen to let whatever comes my way lead me to the next big thing. I trust that wherever I land is where I’m suppose to be, and it will be up to me as to how I choose to live with it.

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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

 

 

Our Memories Are Ours Alone

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I am the eldest daughter and sibling of four. For several years I was an only child and I had my mother and my father all to myself. I wished for a sister, someone I could bond with, a sisterly ally, but by the time she arrived I was 10 years old and when I was 20 she was 10, oh but then I do digress.

My mother recently turned 90, ninety is the new ninety, I like to say. She’s spry and active and independent, a retired schoolteacher, very proud, and although she acts as though she remembers everything, her memory is a little bit fuzzy. My siblings and I celebrated by throwing her a surprise birthday party in her honor and it was a grand time. As I planned her celebration, I began to think back on my own childhood and all types of memories began to emerge.

My parents were very busy people, working in the day and going to college in the evenings. My mother worked at the Bell Telephone company in downtown Brooklyn, NY and my father worked at the Main Post Office also in downtown Brooklyn. He was a part of the Greatest Generation, post World War II men, having served in the Navy.

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As the only child for several years I received a lot of attention. I went to ballet although I wanted to take tap, I took art classes and yearned to write stories and poetry. Because I was an only child then my recollections of those days are all mine. My relationship with my parents was different than the relationship my siblings would have with them in the ensuing years. I knew my parents longer than they did and lived in places they did not. I lived in South Brooklyn, my siblings did not. I lived with my grandmother in Harlem, my my siblings did not. I went to PS 32 in South Brooklyn, my siblings did not. We lived on the 13th floor at 417 Baltic St. and I could see the Statue of Liberty from my window. My siblings never had that experience.

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I remember walks with my dad and discovering my shadow, playing house on the monkey bars in the Gowanus Houses with my mom, dancing to Yma Sumac, a Peruvian singer whose exotic voice was popular in the 50s, as well as listening to my father read poetry to me. I remember going to the March on Washington in 1963 and even though my much younger brothers went also, I had gone a week earlier and stayed with my aunt and cousin. It was during that time that I developed a crush on a guy named Wilbur.I remember our long talks that week I stayed in DC and at the March he climbed up a tree below the Lincoln Memorial to get a better glimpse of  Dr. King as he was approaching the podium to make a speech.Alas, it was impossible for him to get a good view as there were just too many very tall trees which obscured his vision. I would never see Wilbur again after that time spent, but in that moment in time I had great respect for what I perceived as his political activism and civic mindedness.This was my backdrop to a special moment on a momentous occasion in August of 1963. It became my precious memory, no one else’s but mine.

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There are also the collective experiences that all of us children shared and generally those were food memories which we remembered in the same way. We would soon move to a Jewish neighborhood in East New York, where we were one of two Black families in the building. Here is where our shared memories would begin. For example, black and white cookies from the neighborhood bakery for five cents, delicious pizza from Bella Pizzeria on Van Siclen Avenue that cost just 15 cents a slice, Carvel Ice Cream cones for 15 cents. But I also have recollections of penny and two for a penny candy from a candy store that I would pass on my way home from PS 32 in South Brooklyn. None of my brothers and sisters share that memory because none of them lived in Gowanus with me except my brother Anthony who was but a mere baby.

Then there was also the time one of my brothers disappeared all day, reappearing 12 hours later, (he had spent the day at St. Gabriel’s Church (we all attended the Catholic school) watching weddings and horsing around with pals. There were no cell phones in those days and my parents were very distraught, but they were so relieved when he finally reappeared safe and sound that he didn’t really get punished. That seemed a little unfair, as I couldn’t help but think if that had been me I would have had to have hid in a closet for a few weeks until the dust had settled. After all I was the oldest and was expected to set an example.

Because my parents were on tight schedules, they charged me with caring for my siblings. I actually hated that responsibility but I had no choice. We were to eat, do homework, study, with no TV. However, in those days TVs had tubes, which got warm when the TV was turned on. I was a very studious individual, a top student and I studied hard but I also studied that TV and tried to figure out how we could circumvent that no TV rule. I missed watching my favorite TV shows in the evening, so I figured that after our school work was done we would watch the TV up until a half hour before my parents were due back, and then I unplugged it so that when they arrived the set was cool, school work was done, and off to bed we’d go. My parents never figured out that that’s what I had done, which was unusual because they were sharp and it was difficult to pull the wool over their eyes. Now that’s a great experience we all shared, indeed, but I’m the only one who remembers.

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My point is we can grow up in the same family and have experiences that are different and the same.We also can have  a totally different perspective and relationship with our parents. Many family squabbles as adults are around these distinct relationships that we have with our parents. When a parent passes away oftentimes that is the first time that brothers and sisters share stories and everyone hears for the first time about each one’s relationship with the lost parent. Surprising discoveries and tales unfold , some great while others not so much.These interpersonal relationships impact how each child mourns the loss of their parent. Some are closer to a mother, others are closer to a father. Parents share secrets and views with some while others have been excluded from family secrets and lore. Sometimes it’s deliberate and sometimes it’s not.

It’s important to keep in mind that when there’s more than one child in a family, not all parent-child relationships are the same and knowing this should mitigate hard feelings as we learn new information about each one’s experience that has bonded one child to a parent or has caused a severe disconnect for another.

We must try to be open and understand that time in the family and age differences will play an important role in how each sibling views their parents and this impacts the memories that they hold dear as well as the way they mourn after the loss of a parent.
As we enter into adulthood, we must learn to honor each family member’s experience in the family without harboring feelings of malice, jealousy or resentment. We are all individuals and process our family connections in ways that are relevant to our distinctive relationships with our parents. There is no right way to do this and whatever joy, fear, happiness, sadness, or anger we have in our hearts for our parents, these should not be feelings expected to be shared by siblings in the same family. We can respect how a sibling may feel, but we do not have to feel the same way. We all internalize our experiences growing up differently, and we must work through any issues that we might have. We should keep in mind that although siblings may be connected by blood, they are individual human beings and therefore different. So many factors influence our emotional attachments within our families and it’s complicated. All we can do is respect each other’s journeys and honor our own.

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St. Gabriel’s Church

So it goes as all individuals in the same families have their respective relationships with their parents and feelings can vary considerably. But you know what, it is all okay.

I can’t expect my siblings to remember the night I thought Santa was knocking on the window of my bedroom. (I was told that Santa gained entry on Christmas eve by knocking on the window). They have no memory of going to see Peter Pan at Radio City Music Hall with my dad, and when Capt. Hook pulled out his sword and I (only six years old) pulled out my plastic knife and fork from my pocketbook and screamed outloud, “I have a knife too.” This happened much to the chagrin of my father. We can never know the degree of closeness that a sibling has with the same parent unless they tell us; we assume that it’s always the same although it may not have been. We should acknowledge  that our childhood memories may drastically differ from theirs.

After a parent dies, the degree to which we mourn a parent should not be measured against the experiences of our brothers and sisters, as it is deeply personal and cannot be measured by collective memories or remembrances. It’s all about our individual day to day relationships that effect how we feel toward our parents and siblings.

Remembering that we’re not the same, although born into the same family, is important as we learn to respect each other’s perspective and relationship with parents. Honoring each other’s stories helps to create harmonious sibling relationships as we share our family experiences, find out that they’re not identical and that our own special memories are ours alone.

My mother at 90 with her four children

 

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

Did I Sign up for This?

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When Chuck and I were married all I could think about was our future together. It was no longer, just about me, just about him, it was about the both of us. When I look at pictures of the newly betrothed, I generally see blissful couples about to embark on their new journey… together. Although they are still individuals, with their own personalities, tastes, idiosyncrasies, habits and cultural backgrounds, they’re also two people coming together, merging their lives creating a new unified one and beginning to develop goals, merge dreams and thus creating new memories. There are expectations of enduring love, and the hope that all things are possible together.Couples go on to build their lives , raise children, and create family traditions that suit their common dreams and goals.They will bask in the joy and excitement of the highs that life will  bring their way. They will also weather the storms of their union, the ups and downs of life, that they will inevitably experience.

My marriage to Chuck was like that, peaks and valleys, highs and lows, but through it all my love for him and his for me, remained the foundation that bolstered our union as we lived our lives together. Love should be the foundation of every marriage, the absence of it can make tough times tougher. I believe that when one takes those marriage vows and signs that marriage certificate, it’s important that there is an understanding of the seriousness of this new undertaking. Chuck and I understood that, as we had a mutual respect and friendship which are key components of a healthy marital bond.

When Caring For A Sick Spouse Shakes A Marriage To The Core | Kaiser Health  News
Over time the love may begin to erode because of various stresses that a marital relationship will inevitably experience. When that occurs, a couple needs to face their issues head on and decide how they will deal with each circumstance that comes their way. Never ignore an issue as it will always loom in the ether, waiting to be sorted out and resolved. Marriage should not be entered into lightly. I will say this again, marriage should not be entered into lightly. Premarital counseling is recommended so that couples can understand the seriousness of what they are embarking on and also learn the practical and spiritual tools they will need in order to  have a strong and satisfying life together.

I knew a woman whose husband became suddenly ill, and who found herself in a situation where she was caring for him for many, many hours a day. The illness happened out of the blue, interrupting summer vacation plans. She asked the question, “Is this what I signed up for?” When one becomes a caretaker, particularly out of the blue, it stops life in it’s tracks. One partner must shift from a normal routine to become “caretaker in chief”. This applies to men and women equally. Disruption of normal family activities to the point where one person must bear the burden of being the one to aid an ill spouse doesn’t come with a choice. That responsibility, “for better or worse” is implicit in traditional marriage vows. So although some may wonder whether or not this is what they signed up for, my answer is, “Yes, yes you did.”

Traditional marriage vows speak of “in sickness and in health.” We think it will always be a healthy union, but “situations beyond one’s control” can occur that will alter a couple’s life in ways that are unimaginable, and we, as the remaining spouse, have a moral obligation to be there for their beloved.

I once heard of a gentleman who has cared for his wife, for many many years, as she was stricken with a debilitating illness over 30 years before. He sacrificed his retirement years to make sure his wife was cared for, putting his own dreams and desires on the back burner. Many feel he’s a good guy doing the right thing. Some may feel that he has gone beyond the call of duty, but he just feels he’s sticking to his end of the bargain as well as keeping his moral obligation to his spouse. Commendable indeed, but it is exactly what one must decide to do if faced with a situation where a spouse becomes ill. Of course it’s not all black and white and if one finds themselves in a long term stint as their spouse’s caretaker, one must decide how to also create a balance so as not to become overwhelmed, depressed or get caught in a bubble with no way out. And those decisions have to be made by the caretaker/spouse in order to help her/him maintain his/her own sanity and well being.

I’ve heard horror stories too where a spouse , who is terminally ill, is abandoned by their partner, left to die alone. Those who remain, must live with their decision to abandon an ill partner and ignore the marital promise. These are personal decisions that show the character of individuals. These are the times in our lives that ask us to show love, selflessness and humanity toward a human being whom we have loved. The choices that are made in these instances are a matter of life and death for those who are faced with life and death.7 Things I Wish More People Understood About My Arranged Marriage | SELF

I suggest that before folks marry, there should be several conversations about each person’s values, likes and dislikes, political views, and expectations. Finding out about one’s partner, every aspect, is important, as well as discussing what each would do if one of them became ill. A question one might ask is,”Do you think that you would be able to take care of me if I became ill?” Nine times out of 10 individuals will respond with,”Of course, yes….without a doubt”, but beyond that it will force people to really think about the road they are about to travel on. We do not want to burden ourselves with thinking about relationships ending before they start, but giving thought to the future is a good and healthy way to be clear about one’s commitment to their partner. We want to be prepared, but not dwell in the what ifs.

The first year of marriage is an eye-opener, even if two people have lived together before. That little piece of paper adds a higher level of commitment to a relationship. With love and friendship as the foundation and the knowledge that there is no one else with whom you’d want to spend the rest of your life, you’ll know your answer to,” Is this what I signed up for?”, a question many ask when forced to care for their beloved. As for me,I never asked that question as there was no doubt in my mind as to how my own challenge would be met. We had to prepare to begin the most difficult journey of our lives,and I knew, without a doubt that it was my duty to care for my husband. Eventually, I would come to understand that it was an honor and a privilege to care for Chuck, that God trusted me enough to entrust me with his care. An awesome, tough responsibility and yes, “I would do it again.” Every individual must answer this question with careful consideration for what’s at stake.

For me it was in sickness and in health; for better or worse. A life altering challenge that has led me to the place where I currently dwell ….on higher ground.

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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

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

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