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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

Love Notes: What Remains

In this month of love and romance I share these thoughts with you:

I met my future husband to be in the summer of 1987. Several people have wanted to take the credit for bringing us together, but it was my friend Kathy who initially introduced us at a fundraiser I hosted annually to benefit the Central Park Conservancy here in New York City, called the Whites Picnic. Later that summer, on Labor Day weekend, Chuck and I would meet by chance again at a friend’s barbecue in Brooklyn. He came over and reintroduced himself to me and felt my hair, mentioning how soft it was. Chuck was  marketing a line of women’s hair care products for a very high profile client,so touching my hair was appropriate and sent a tingle up my spine.

We had our first date, rather unexpectedly. I was the host and producer of a lifestyle show on cable television and was searching for single men for a show I was doing on males giving their views on the state of  male/female relationships. As it so happened, one guy could not make it but suggested Chuck as a replacement for him. It ended up that Chuck couldn’t come either, but he appreciated the invitation. Soon after Chuck would call me and ask me out on our first date. It was a freezing evening, that had included a day where I had to attend the funeral of a friend. Death, loss, and new beginnings were all unwittingly wrapped up in that day. The movie we saw: Fatal Attraction. Anyway, we were soon a couple beginning to enjoy our life together.

The first time Chuck had me over to his apartment for dinner it was the first time I would be seeing where he lived. Expecting a tricked out,modern bachelor pad, I was surprised and horrified to see a very humble studio with mismatch furnishings, hand-me-downs from relatives. But he had lit candles, that were actually melted down, and he’d prepared a superb gourmet meal for me with his little brown hands. That act of giving to me by putting in the effort to make me a dinner from scratch, was a moment in time that I treasured always as I came to love that one room studio on the Upper West Side of Manhattan.

Eventually, my son and Chuck’s two nephews, who would one day be cousins, would, on occasion,pile into his apartment and his sister, with whom I had become fast friends, and I would leave the boys there and go on our merry way. Shopping and eating on the then trendy Columbus Avenue and beyond was what us carefree single moms pursued.Chuck and the boys would have adventures of their own exploring Central Park, which Chuck knew with his eyes closed, or they’d take in a movie or some such fun. Whatever they did it was sure to include lots of sweets and food and fun, along with lectures on how to be a good, solid man. Those were the halcyon days, great memories that I never want to be erased.

Chuck and I loved the movies and went to many, Glory and Breakfast at Tiffany’s among our faves. We would cry at the sad parts and laugh at our favorite TV shows like Curb Your Enthusiasm and Dream On.

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One of my favorite movies is Heartburn with Meryl Streep and Jack Nicholson. Well, there is a part in the movie where the character Rachel, decides to whip up a meal of Spaghetti Carbonara. I was so inspired by that part in the movie that I decided to make Carbonara for Chuck.I went to a neighborhood market, Fairway, which was at that time smaller and there was only one. I happened to run into the manager and asked him where I could find pancetta which is an Italian smoked bacon. I told him that I was making Spaghetti Carbonara. He proceeded to take me to the back of the store and introduced me to the butcher, and he tells the man to “give her whatever she needs“. He then got on the phone and called someone who gave me a recipe for Carbonara. I don’t know what made him do that, but I like to think he was just happy to hear that someone was cooking in the name of love.

That meal must have been blessed by the gods because when I served it to Chuck, he was so impressed that he would think of me as this really great cook. What he didn’t know was that without that recipe, it could’ve really turned into runny eggs with bacon minus the spaghetti.

Recently, I came across this recipe as I looked through old mementos. I thought back on that time and how, our love, for movies, food and my love for Chuck inspired me to make a meal that was special, just for him. His caring love for me had inspired him to do the same. As the characters in the movie were at some point professing their disdain for marriage and vowing never to do so, in the next scene there they were getting hitched in a prewar apartment in the Apthorp located in this city that I love.

I, the dreamy romantic, would like to think that my Carbonara, made with my little brown hands, sprinkled with all the love I had for Chuck, is what touched his heart and drew us ever closer together. Eventually, we too would walk down the aisle of New York’s St. Paul’s Chapel, beginning our new life, till death do us part.

In the years since my husband has been gone, ten to be exact, my life has changed drastically. Thoughts of Chuck come into my mind now and then but not, as in the beginning, every single moment of every single day. I’m incredibly grateful for having been able to spend a large portion of my life with him. I learned many things, I expanded my thinking, I became purpose driven and I recognized my own strengths, as well as my very strong will. I found my voice and speak up for myself instead of holding it in as I was prone to do.I learned from Chuck not to “suffer fools gladly” particularly if I realize that they mean me more harm than good. He changed my life and took me to another level. But then,that is what relationships should do: help each other to grow instead of stranding each other on a barren cold island in the middle of a desert. I am different now and have discovered that I will need someone different for this part of my life’s journey. Grief, life after death, entering my new normal, changed me, for the better, I think. God didn’t abandon me after all, as he sent me friends along the way to make me laugh, wipe my tears and gently push me toward that light at the end of the tunnel. In the end, I did make it through the loss of my husband, which let me know that if I could, anyone who wants to can.

My time spent with Chuck was magical, real, full of life’s travails and moments of pure joy. It was all meant to be and then like magic it was gone. But like the memories and random love notes that conjure thoughts of days long gone, the love remains still, spiraling, like spaghetti, up to heaven.

Happy Valentine’s Day

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

Coping with Grief and The Holidays

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I promise.

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

Do It Anyway and Show Up for Yourself

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1.Getting past the pain of loss

2.Allowing the distractions to help you to heal

3 Creating new relationships.

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

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

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

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

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

Who Shall Comfort Thee

No one understands the rituals of grieving more than those who have walked that path. How long one remains on this road cannot be readily determined as it depends on each individual.

So many well meaning friends and family just don’t get it, you know,the whole “my husband/wife is dead” thing. I hear this complaint from practically everyone I’ve spoken to who has lost a spouse.Some folks actually think and say,”She’s/he’s gone now and pretty soon you’ll be back to normal.”  But, as I’ve stated before, after losing a spouse you will never go back to “normal”. You will be transformed and enter into what I call a “new normal“. When I think about it now, I can understand how hard  it  would be for anyone to wrap their head around such a drastic loss. How can one comprehend the magnitude of pain and sorrow that one goes through unless they are in that person’s body or mind. I understand also that, most of the time, it’s out of care for the individual that people will urge loved ones to get over it and become a part of the world again. Now,however, I have so many years behind me and can now step back and look at my own experience through a re-calibrated lens.

When my father died in 2005, I was so devastated. I missed him sorely and  would grieve openly and then silently for a few years. What stopped me from being open with my grief…… my consideration for others. I knew that I had to at least look like I was living in the present for the sake of my husband. I knew that my husband would not understand why I was gloomy and sad for a prolonged period of time. In fact he said to me that,” he missed my father too.” However, I felt as though he was stealing my grief for my father from me by letting me know that he missed him too.Thus,in his mind,we were in the same boat,so to speak. What he didn’t understand was that my dad was not my father-in-law, he was my father who raised me, and cared for me and taught me things and loved and cherished me. After he died, I just needed someone to comfort me, not share the pain with me. I did not voice these thoughts to my husband, as I would not have known how to have said this to him then, and I realized that he was doing the best he could. So I hid my ongoing grief and gave the appearance of things having gone back to normal. Ironically, when my husband lay dying, probably 3 to 4 weeks before he actually passed away, it was his father and my father that he “saw” in visions as he lay ill and, I’m sure at that point filled with pain, yearning to leave this place.

I was fortunate because I had a few friends that I could turn to for comfort, and I decided that I did not want to burden my husband with having to be there for me for an indeterminate amount of time. I knew that my husband was not built that way, to be a vessel for those who grieve, so I tucked it away and grieved on my own.

But as luck would have it, I knew a woman who shared with me that when her father died suddenly, it sent her into such a tailspin, but she knew that she had to eventually put a cap on “it” because her husband wouldn’t understand and would worry that she was “taking too long to grieve”. So she continued to grieve silently, when in reality her father was thefirst person she thought of when she awoke and the last person she thought of before going to sleep. My conversations with this woman gave me comfort and reassurance. I found it to be an open, and honest, conversation about grief and grief management. Most people will just tell you things like,” It took a long time but eventually I got over it”,or “It was very tough but after awhile I was able to get through it”. Although all of these epitaphs should seem to bring reassurance, in reality these statements are way too general to validate the feelings and experiences of those who are in the midst of “hell on earth.”

I continued on grieving silently for my dad and after a while no one really knew how terribly I missed him.In fact the event that interrupted my grieving for my father was when my life was disrupted by the catastrophic illness which entered Chuck’s life and changed our lives forever. Once we got a confirmed diagnosis of pancreatic cancer, it put an abrupt end to the lingering grief that I had for my dad.I knew that I had to be strong and at the ready for the days that lay ahead.

Some people are just not built to be long-term consolers for the bereaved. They can love you, and take care of you when you’re sick, but to console, to give comfort, to patiently empathize until another’s grief is done, that’s a quality  that few people possess. I cannot fault my husband for his lack of empathy,long-term.He was a good human being, loving and precious and always did the best he could to care for me, and to be there when it mattered.When I think back on that time I realize that my husband did not want me to get buried in my grief. He wanted me to remain among the living. He could not bring my dad back to me but he didn’t want to lose me too.

Now, here’s the interesting part of this piece, many people who urge others to move their lives forward quickly and put the grief behind them, are often people who are good at putting a lid on their own grief and sorrow.If grief after loss is never dealt with it remains with you as long as you live. When my father was ill, before he could no longer speak, he said he was not afraid to die because he would see his mother again. Ironically, when Chuck was ill he shared how he longed to see his father again. Chuck missed his father so much, but he tucked his grief away and went on with the rest of his life. He felt he had a responsibility,as a man, to suck it up and be present. I knew of his longstanding grief and how the pain from that loss never really left him. I also knew that after that major event in his life he was never the same.Thus,as they both made their way to death’s door,my father and Chuck, were both looking forward to crossing that threshold with hopes that they would be reunited with their lost loved ones once again.

There’s not much we can do about other people’s reactions to our losses,however we can stop them in their tracks and let them know that we’re already in pain so their words,though well meant,are not quite what we need to hear at the moment. You will be teaching others how to care for you with their words,and if you can’t find the words,just say Stop!

When my husband died, I didn’t want to overburden and worry my friends and family, so I learned to grieve alone. I would talk to God,  meditate, ” talk” to my husband and I would talk to myself as I prayed for the pain to subside. Many, many months down the road I did begin to feel the heartache begin to ebb, and in the process of my being there for myself I found that I was all I needed. I became a better friend to myself and eventually I was able to stand in the truth of who I had become.I soon took up writing and began to write my book. Forcing myself to not get consumed by my overwhelming grief, I was able to lead myself out of the gray tunnel that I was in.

When all seems lost and those who grieve have no one else to turn to, as I’ve read in the various grief communities and the various notes and emails that I receive, we must continue to live as we grieve. It’s okay to shut it off for awhile and think about other things.Redecorate,try out a new hobby, cultivate a new skill, begin to sort through personal items you want to keep and things you want to ditch.You will find that to be an evolutionary process in itself,that you will revisit as time goes on.Maybe you like to make jewelry, maybe you’ve always wanted to to learn how to fish, maybe you want to take a trip to someplace you’ve never been.As you begin to become more active or master a new area of expertise, you will slowly begin the subtle transformation from grief to recovery and slip into your “new normal.”

If those who care for us feel that we’re taking too long to get past our grief then that’s on them. As you begin to explore new activities you will begin to create new friendships and in so doing you will begin to feel alive and whole again.

This is a tough tough journey, but as we turn to ourselves for comfort we will eventually feel a surge of hope.We will soon be in control of our own destiny, as we begin to feel alive and whole again on our own terms.

 

Read more about grief and recovery after loss in Brave in a New World: A Guide to Grieving the Loss of a Spouse available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble and all other e-booksellers.