After Loss: Change Is on The Way

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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.

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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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

Rumblings in My Spirit

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

They Are with Us More Now

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Do No Harm

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Grief and Loss: On Losing Friends

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Signs of Love

 

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I would have to say that I would characterize my late husband Chuck as a “holiday guy.” He rose to each occasion (birthdays, Christmas, Mother’s Day, Valentine’s Day etc. ) showering me with gifts symbolic of his love for me. Fancy, cute, funny, always a mix of things to delight my eyes and my heart. In the beginning I loved receiving the fancy baubles, bangles, and beads, many from that Fifth Ave. blue box store, but what I cherished most were the  little stuffed animals, some of which depicted him and me as little bears, and one boy bear with a cute bow tie, similar to the ones Chuck took to wearing on occasion.

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After Chuck passed away I was faced with living each new approaching holiday alone. The Firsts: first Christmas, first birthdays, first anniversaries, and all the other special occasions that we normally celebrated together, loomed in the near distance. Anticipating the various occasions created anxiety within me as I tried to figure out how to brace myself for the rush of emotions I was surely expecting to feel.

I managed to get through the First New Year’s  Eve, with help from friends, as we celebrated New Year’s Eve together (me anticipating an anxiety attack). However, the transition went smoothly and I looked forward to 2010 with hopes of lessening the heavy burden of  my day to day sorrow.

The First Valentine’s Day was a mere few weeks after my husband’s actual death. It seemed to approach slowly and quickly, as time moves differently after loss. I no longer experienced each day singularly, but more as a stream of time: night/day… day/night.

On February 14th, 2009, the very first Valentine’s Day since Chuck’s recent death, I was searching in my collection of cards to finish writing thank you’s to those who had sent condolences. As I rummaged through the various cards I came across a beautiful Valentine’s Day card, never sent, to me from Chuck.

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I was so startled and touched, that I wept uncontrollably and fell back into my husband’s leather recliner, which had become a comfortable resting place for me. As I sat reading the words on the card paying special attention to his signature, I absentmindedly slipped my hands into the side of the chair.I felt something and pulled out a Scrabble tile with a C on it. I wondered if these were  signs of love that were being sent to me so soon after his death. Had he put the card in that place for me to find? Had he deliberately hidden the Scrabble tile in the side of his chair hoping I would find it on a day when I needed to be comforted more than ever?

What I’ve learned about love…it’s abiding and it’s all around

When we lose a spouse we cannot really know where they’ve gone to next. Are they just gone? Will they come back? Have they gone to another plane? Will we see them again? Can they hear our cries of sorrow? Do they cry with us? However, I do believe that we can receive signs from those who have passed away. We have to believe that our love for them is the fuel that empowers their spirit to reach out and let us know that they’re okay, you’re going to be okay, and it’s okay for one to move on with one’s unfinished life in this place.

Whether via a dream, soft touch, a note scribbled in our loved one’s handwriting or a former possession of our lost love, found when we least expect it, I believe that these are all signs from those we have lost. One just has to be open, and know that anything is possible when someone passes away. We must also pay attention to the subtle and sometimes not-so-subtle signs of assurance that tell us that our loved ones are keeping watch and still sending love our way.

My husband told a friend that he knew I was going to have a hard time after he had died. Could it be that as Chuck straddled the fence between life and death that he could have planted these items hoping that I would discover them when I needed some tangible assurance of hope….of faith? Or was this just magic, unexplained occurrences, that are a part of the world we live in. I can never really know, but I choose to believe that they were messages from him, meant to encourage, support  and keep me going during the long, long days of my grief. To have found them on Valentine’s Day, that First Valentine’s Day, was beyond mere coincidence, timed by the Universe, so that I would come to  know that even after my husband’s death, he would still send signs of hope, signs of love.

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              Happy Valentine’s Day

 

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

 

 

 

Let Me Tell You How It Is

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During the early days of my loss, I was hit in the face with such excruciating pain, I wanted to jump out of my skin.Those around me, for the most part, took their cues from me as to how to be there for me.I was starring in a new role and winging it as I went along.

People offer condolences in many different ways. I experienced all the ways.There were offers to go to lunch, flowers (lots of beautiful arrangements)cards, food and just love. A few people cried with me and didn’t look down on my tears. Even now, when I gather with a few, and as we recall that time, the tears will come.We carry these memories within us even after many years have passed.Often something might ignite a memory and make us feel wistful, melancholy, and sad. These natural feelings are embedded within us as an indelible reminder of persons we’ve loved and lost, and they can be awakened without warning every now and then.

Many folks cannot possibly understand why after the initial shock of loss, it’s so difficult to recover and go back to normal. As I have said many times we will never be “normal” again, and we are on the road to our “new normal” which will occur by-and-by.

I want to tell you what I remember about adjusting to never being able to see my husband again. The first night was very tough. My son and brother rearranged my bed so I could just slip into it.They removed the evidence of what had occurred that morning when my husband passed away in our bedroom.

When I got into bed for the first time, without my husband beside me, the bed felt very empty. I stuffed the other side with pillows so I wouldn’t feel his absence and would be able to get some rest. It worked and I would continue to stuff his side with pillows for many years to come.

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In the morning when I woke up and went to the kitchen to make my coffee I opened the cupboard and saw my husband’s mugs that he used to make for his morning tea. Seeing those cups tore me apart and I stood there weeping,trying to figure out how I would ever get through the days ahead.

Empty slippers, robes, brushes,a toothbrush lying beside mine, still, never to be used by Chuck again. His clothes, and books and the things he used in life enveloped me in sorrow as I longed to see him one last time. When I would go into the bathroom and look at the set of two towels,his embroidered with his initials,I would stand there in a state of shock and cry until my eyes were blurry.

At night when I would go to sleep, bed stuffed with pillows, I would cover my head with my fluffy down comforter drifting off to sleep only to awaken to the same heartache and suffering the next day. Groundhog Day was my new normal.

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In the ensuing weeks if some news was shared, I immediately would want to tell Chuck, but then realized he wasn’t here. When friends, Jane and George, came to visit me after he had passed away, I was so happy to see them and went to tell Chuck when I remembered that he was dead.Dead, dead, dead, getting used to the D word was the worst for me, as I blundered my way through this new landscape that I never imagined becoming a part of. The word held so much finality within it, that I rarely used it and preferred to say that my husband had passed away…or left the planet.

I would sit in my husband’s black leather armchair, and try to “feel” him. Initially when I would do this, I would stick my hand down the side of the chair and find little trinkets,or a note. I began to imagine he’d slipped these little “gifts” there for  me to find and hoping I’d find comfort in them after he was gone. Sometimes I would even wander through my home looking for signs of his return, but soon I began to feel increasingly mad, unstable, and a bit crazy as I tried to manage my day to day grief and maintain my sanity. I could go on and on about losing my best friend of 22 years who had captured my heart and then disappeared. I’m sure a few friends thought I had abandoned them,but they never knew that I was no longer who I once was and I was struggling daily not to fall off a cliff.

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I recount the details of this period in my grieving journey, so that those who think that mourning is a brief walk in the park will understand the layers of emotions one endures after losing a spouse.

There will be many people who will compare their life experiences to your loss. I suppose they do this to make you feel better and to encourage you to get on with your life. They want you to see how lucky you are as compared to whatever experience they’ve been through. I’m here to tell you that comparing different experiences to someone who is in the midst of grieving is one of the worst offerings of sympathy that one can give. I have yet to meet one person who has lost a spouse who was happy to hear how someone else’s experience should make them feel “lucky” that they’d only lost their spouse”. It’s as if they’re telling you to get over it because things could be far worse.

No one can ever know what someone goes through after they’ve lost a spouse unless they’ve had that experience…..period. Try to understand that when someone dies, a part of the person dies with them, and that their life as they knew it has been turned upside down, and that they are feeling like they are losing their mind. This explanation may help those who want to share words of comfort and not statements that diminish the grieving person’s sorrow or ignores what they’re going through. The more one truly knows how to be there for those who have lost a spouse or anyone, hopefully the more patient one will become with them.

I was pretty lucky when it came to having people around me who could ride the waves with me. Those who could not – I let go. Remembering that those who grieve aren’t being self indulgent, they’re not just whining, they are heart brokenhearted and in unimaginable pain. They’re trying to make their way in the wilderness on a dark and prickly path.They need people to listen to them unceasingly, be a shoulder to cry on, give the occasional hug, and never admonish or compare (to divorces, others’ losses, separations, less than stellar childhoods). Never, never make those who grieve feel as though they are doing something wrong.And for those who are on a grieving journey,do not feel obligated to listen to folks who hurt with words. Tell them to STOP and then say,“Let me tell you how it is………”

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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

 

Hope in the Dark

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After we lose a spouse, this new silence in our lives is deafening.We are used to the familiar sounds of our loved ones and, after they have slipped away, we must now get used to the din of nothingness which inhabits the space where they were once alive in all their glory.

That’s how it was for me after my husband Chuck died. I could no longer hear his voice, his laugh. The noiseless TV sat still, no longer the constant backdrop to our lives. That period, in the beginning, was one of the most difficult periods of my grief journey. Getting used to the absence of his presence in our home, in my life, and in my heart, was excruciatingly painful. I realized, during the early days of my grieving how close we had been, so much so, that I felt as though I’d lost a limb, and was now crippled with sorrow. As I wrote in my book, Brave in a New World, I felt as though I had been flung into a dark tunnel,with an ability to exist in the outer world, my day to day life, while facing another inner reality, adrift in a sea of darkness.

Oftentimes my mind would drift as I struggled to maintain my sanity in this new and dreary world. I had to remember to do everything consciously, notice where I was putting my keys, pay attention to whether I brushed my teeth so as not to forget and end up doing it again or making sure I didn’t pay the same bill twice. Simple tasks became difficult, and I became very forgetful of people’s names, events, and where I put things.When someone would ask me if I remembered something and my answer was no, they would occasionally insist that I must recall a person, place or thing. I would feel anger and frustration and I wanted to scream out that my husband had died and I was just trying to remember who I was. I was having a hard time staying on top of  the small tasks so I could get through each and every new day. In order to go to church on Sunday, I had to prepare a day ahead. If I didn’t, I might get confused as to what to wear or misplace my church envelope, which would delay my getting to service on time, making me so frustrated I would give up altogether. I rarely lashed out, but instead slowly distanced myself from those who just didn’t “get it”.

Even as I continued to move forward through the Firsts: Chuck’s birthday, our anniversary, Father’s Day, Christmas, I struggled to push on. I didn’t want each occasion to hinder my progress as I feared becoming frozen in place, interrupting my hard work toward recovery and reawakening. I yearned to be free, free of the pain, the hurt, the day to day battle to remain lucid and aware. I endured these struggles each and every day which, at first, seemed to have no end in sight.

I continued on like that for months, years really, and then one summer day, I decided to write a book. I wanted to let everyone know what to expect when they lose a spouse. I felt that they should know that the feelings they’d be experiencing were going to seem scary, deeply painful and unexpected. I wanted to talk about the experience of grieving because no one ever tells you what it’s like. I wanted to bring this unspoken issue out into the light and remove the shroud of secrecy. Let’s face it, nowadays we talk about everything else, so why should the topic of  grief and loss be so off limits, taboo in the twenty first century?

I wanted to validate the feelings of  those who silently grieve and let them know that they are not alone. For some, it’s an experience that can and does last forever. Some widows and widowers die within a short period after their spouse, because, for them,to live life without their husband or wife is not an option. After the actor Christopher Reeves’ death, his wife Dana would pass away two years later. It’s so important that we check on our loved ones who grieve so that they can remain vital, maintaining the will to live and not grow the desire to die. For those of us who wish to get on with our lives it’s important to understand that grieving and the pain that ensues is normal and  expected.

Eventually I did see a glimmer of light at the end of that tunnel. Initially it was very small, just a pinhole, but eventually it grew. Soon I recognized that light as hope, hope in the dark. This was my signal, a sign, that as I drew myself up out of the pit of despair and became open to my new future without Chuck, I would be supported in that effort by God, the Universe and all of humanity. All that I needed became available for me, at my disposal until I finally could see a tiny twinkling light beckoning me into my new beginning.

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

When Grief Lingers

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When I was a young girl in my teens, I used to spend a week in the summers with a great aunt who lived in West Philly. She was a retired schoolteacher,a widow and my father’s fave.My aunt was very erudite and she loved reading and writing. She lived in an apartment on a cobblestone street.I don’t remember all the details of that time, but I do remember that I was never excited to spend a whole week with my  great aunt in Philadelphia. Don’t get me wrong she was the loveliest woman, but I was young, in my teens, and there weren’t any young people my age around except for one young girl who visited with me on occasion.

Aunt Marie and I would go sightseeing around Philly, the Liberty Bell, Independence Hall, and other typical tourist attractions and historical places of note.When we’d arrive back at her home,I was so bored I found myself counting the days to when I would be going back home to New York. In those days a week was forever, and long-distance calls were very expensive, so I didn’t call home often, but when I did speak to my parents and pleaded with them to allow me to come home early, they assured me that I would be home soon enough and that my Aunt Marie was really enjoying my company.I seriously doubted that,so those reassurances fell on deaf ears.In all honesty,I would’ve preferred to have spent a week with my cousin in DC. He was cool, he had great friends, many of whom were very good looking guys. My cousin was popular and I found that there were many benefits that came with being the girl cousin from New York,but then,I do digress.

The first time I met my Aunt Marie was in the 60’s and it was before her husband, my father’s Uncle Matt, had died. It was the only time I would ever meet him, tall dark and handsome, but at that point in poor health. My Aunt Marie became a widow soon after that.That was one of the reasons my parents wanted me to spend time with her because she was alone,  her grown children out on their own. In the beginning of my visits I would sleep in the room with my aunt,and in the middle of the night, for the first couple of nights, I would be awakened by sobs. I didn’t understand what was going on until one night I asked her what was wrong. She explained to me that she missed her husband and her daughter, a little girl who had died of an illness at a very early age. She proceeded to show me pictures of both. I felt sad for her, but I didn’t understand after so many years how she could still be mourning the loss of her child,who must’ve died at least 60 years earlier and her husband who had been gone at least 5 years, at that time.
After learning all of this I felt very sorry for her,but I also felt sorry for myself,in that typical teenage it’s all about me kind of way, as I so wanted to get some sleep.Realizing that this would be my ongoing sleeping situation until further notice, her sobs, my inability to sleep,laying awake, longing to go home, I decided to sleep on a couch in the living room. I remember it was small, as was I, 118 pounds soaking wet, but still I scrunched myself onto a tiny couch nightly counting the days to when I could return to my comfy cozy bed in my purple bedroom back in Brooklyn,New York.Purple and orange,in that psychedelic era, were my favorite colors then.

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I was an avid reader,so out of sheer boredom I began looking through her titles hoping I’d find a book that would hold my interest until I left for home. It was in her library that I found many interesting things to read,including the latest Reader’s Digests.Soon I landed on a copy of The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson.Thereafter I’d sit in my aunt’s window seat and read until so tired, I fell onto the settee and tried to get some sleep. I loved that book and in years to come, when I would see the movie adaptation called The Haunting, I would remember my time with my aunt, but from a different perspective.Years later, I began to view the time spent with her with great fondness tinged with sadness.At that time I was at the beginning of my life and I had a limited view. I understood so little about life, the passage of time, the passage of people and grief.I was as tall as a 5 foot hedge but could not see over it. Aunt Marie cried every night I was there; she was an insomniac kept awake by her profound grief. She couldn’t make peace with the deaths of her husband and her small child. These losses weighed so heavily on her that the only outlet was to weep nightly as she grieved and grieved, wept and wept.
I am sure that this was a typical way of handling grief after loss for many widows/widowers during the 50’s and 60’s. You lived your life daily and grieved quietly for your losses until your time was done.However,I also know that there were those who were able to make peace with the deaths of husbands, wives, children, and eventually were able to go on and learn to live again, have full lives some even finding love again.Sadly,this was not the case for my Aunt Marie, and were it not for my brief summer visits I would never have known about or experienced her pain and sorrow which in many ways would be a precursor to my own.

Nowadays we do not have to shut ourselves away and deal with our losses alone. Some may want you to,and others may not know how to avail themselves of the services and communities available to caretakers and those who mourn. There are many available counseling groups, grief communities, and many other forms of assistance.Bereavement counselors, pastoral care, grief and recovery groups as well as other systems of support, some affiliated with local hospitals, hospices and local health and wellness organizations  all service the needs of those who require support, comfort and grief counseling.The one element that one must have is the desire to embark on the grief journey.We can distract ourselves but so long until we finally implode,so getting assistance is critical to rebuilding a life after loss.

A few nights before my husband died, I called a special hotline and the people on the other end were able to coach me through which medicines to give my husband who at that point was in acute pain. These were heavy-duty medications meant to be used carefully and when he was in dire need. The folks on the other end of the phone were knowledgeable, compassionate, kind, and confident as they assisted me in caring for my husband by remote. On a later call I thanked them for their help and the woman answered me, “oh we have all been there, that is why we do this work, all of us.” I knew then that these wonderful volunteers had taken their experience with loss and were now helping others who faced similar circumstances. What a gift of service to be able to give back to those who find themselves as caregivers for their dying spouses.

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I’ve thought about my Aunt Marie often in recent years. She loved to write and wrote me many letters in a block style script that looked so elegant against my scrawny chicken scratch. I have a new appreciation for the grief and sorrow that she suffered, the losses that followed her daily for the rest of her life. I would never see my aunt ever again, after the last summer I spent with her, although we did correspond regularly and  talked on the phone occasionally.Eventually, she moved from Philly to Falmouth,Mass., and one end of summer afternoon,when I was in Oak Bluffs,I called her, we chatted and said we loved each other. Two weeks later she unexpectedly passed away and I am convinced  that she had continued to grieve those deep losses in her life until the day she died.

No one should have to endure a life sentence of grieving. It is important that those who grieve reach out and become a part of the living before too much time passes or they risk experiencing prolonged grief, complicated grief which can interfere with how one functions on a daily basis. It can also prevent one from moving their life forward. It’s not easy to get through the pain of loss, but with the will to survive and create a new beginning,by taking advantage of all the assistance that is available, one can go on to construct a rich life, new relationships, maybe even find love again but most importantly…LIVE!