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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This Thanksgiving

I must admit that 2020 did not start off very well. Kobe Bryant’s tragic death two days after the 11th anniversary of the passing of my husband was just a terrible, sad, tragedy. Although I have never been a big sports fan, I felt that loss like everyone else, a big punch to the gut that left us all reeling. Soon after I would unexpectedly lose a friend, Shelly, and the year would proceed like that. I felt that if I could just get to summer and Martha’s Vineyard’s beaches and sands, fun and sun, parties and laziness, all would be right in the world. But that was not going to happen for me as the world was hit with a global pandemic which would change life as we know it, filling many with fear, anxiety, fatigue and despair.

I began to take stock of my life, again. I say again because I do this often.It helps to keep me grounded and to stay the course. Although I can veer off course and that’s when I have my greatest adventures, oh but then, I do digress.  I had a friend once who you used to call these moments, What’s it all about Alfie? moments.

I proceeded to look at my list of to do things and got cracking. I cleaned out closets, pantries, I ditched old books, papers, photographs just everything that was no longer relevant to my life. Why was I holding on to text books from my undergraduate years? Would I ever pick them up and read them? Never did. What’s the point in having them in my library? The number of books you have doesn’t mean anything unless you read them or they have a personal meaning to you, the reader. I had made a decision that at this time I wanted to pare down and recreate my surroundings so that it reflected who I am now as well as who I am continuously becoming. No more extraneous stuff tucked away hidden to be discovered by others after I am gone. I would hate for people to find tons of items stacked mixed in with clothing wrapped in neat little bundles hinting at my serious flirtation with hoarding. Don’t laugh, it has happened with folks who have passed. So I figured that with this uninterrupted time I would ditch, purge, and donate when charities finally opened up. Who would be able to identify people in pictures or care about what role they may have played in my life. Mementos from high school, tokens from young pals whose names I no longer remember. They meant something to me at one time, but I never look at the items so why hang onto them. They have lost their sentimental value and no longer conjure up relevant memories. I’ve gone on to live my life and no longer feel attached to those days that came before the NOW.

Web Directory of Charitable Organisations in the Western Cape | Western  Cape Government

As soon as the city I live in experienced a lockdown, it became whisper quiet….no planes, cars, trucks, no school noises…nothing. Lots of moving vans however, as people sought refuge in “safer zip codes”, or moved back to Kansas with red shoes and Toto in tow. But how do you escape a ubiquitous invisible enemy, a potentially deadly virus which we were learning more and less about daily. There was daily information mixed with misinformation. But for me it was like being away, an urban-suburban experience. The quiet soothed my spirit which was truly rattled by everything that was occurring around me. I wasn’t going out anywhere. I was going to do what I was asked to do to keep myself and the few around me safe. I am a pragmatist, although I do rely on spirit, so acknowledging the fear helped me to get a handle on it as I figured out how to cope during a most perilous time. So today, I am most grateful for patience, strength, fortitude, direction, God, and the hope I needed to get through these days. My intuition, which is my spirit, allowed me to know the right thing to do while we all waited.

After George Floyd’s death, in your face for the world to see , the social unrest that followed was reminscent of my own activist days back in the late 60’s. Old issues, new issues, this generation said ,“Enough! Black Lives Matter”,while my generation said,“March on, we are with you.” Many of my friends marched with them proud to be a part of a movement for true change. The truth is that African Americans in this country have always had to think about white people in order to shield ourselves from daily, subtle and not so subtle racist remarks and acts of bigotry that we have dealt with on the daily. While we have had to be on guard as we figured out how to maneuver in different situations, white people have never had to consider African Americans, except when deciding where to live. And unless the decision was to be in a diverse community, then the sky was the limit for those seeking homogenized communities. They can move wherever the please, they can eat wherever they want, they can go someplace and not have someone mistake them for the help. They can go into a store and not have someone direct them to the sales rack or follow them throughout the store. These are just basic degrading, insulting, disrespectful experiences that black people have had to deal with for decades.

In order to stay safe while traveling we had various safe routes that we were advised to take to avoid encounters with Klansmen and other white supremacists who might want to do us harm. White people didn’t have to worry about taking those routes, or being barred entry to places like Freedomland Amusement Park. They didn’t have to worry about being caught in a sundown town which could be a matter of life or death for Black folks. They could just be, live life and not be fearful that the color of their skin would find them in the chokehold of a policeman. They don’t have to worry about their sons,but we do.And to watch people pass laws and institute restrictions that deny black folks access or limit how far one can progress,is truly hateful and a blight against this country.This period has allowed so many to see what we’ve always seen.Now the young people, Black and White, have taken up the cause for justice. They are not going to take no for an answer and have said enough is enough. Today, I am thankful to see how people are taking up the mantle of justice fighting for human dignity, equality, the inalienable right to be able to live and survive in this country, on this planet. People are fighting for human dignity, to reverse injustices that black people have had to endure for decades. I am so grateful that we live in a time where finally we will probably get some resolution to a lot of experiences that have plagued us and hampered so many from moving forward. I am thankful that the whole world is watching and there is no turning back now.

While folks were all facing this pandemic, social unrest, climate change, loss of income, and countless deaths due to COVID-19, I was having my own personal challenges. My left knee was giving me problems and right before the pandemic I had been trying to make an appointment to schedule surgery. Having to wait, with increasing pain, when pandemic restrictions eased in my town, I figured I’d schedule surgery. The date given was going to be soon. I had the surgery and I’m recovering and healing well. The date of that surgery was the perfect time as there were no planned events or activities to interfere with the decision to improve my quality of life. No more daily ibuprofen, cold compresses, heat in the AM cold in the PM. The surgery went well and in two days I was home rehabbing and healing. Having been through this before I knew what to expect, but when you’re in the throes of excruciating pain it’s hard to see the end in sight .When I arrived home I had a lot of help and even my cats,Smokey and Zoe, were so happy to see me, they set up sentry at the foot of my bed, ensuring that I would not leave them again anytime soon.

But the sweetest part of this time for me is that my girlfriends, my sister girlfriends were conspiring to ease my burden. Several of them decided to send me dinner everyday for a week. They texted me menus, asked me what I wanted and had it sent. I couldn’t believe how kind and generous they were. Pizza, chicken, paella, black beans, one bestie even went so far as to bake a lasagna and brought me beautiful flowers to brighten my time spent healing. Someone brought me a beautiful bouquet of Lilies along with other fragrant flowers. I was really overcome to tears. I am so fortunate to be surrounded by the most incredibly compassionate, loving individuals and they just stepped up unexpectedly because this is what they do. I am thankful that at this point in life I am surrounded by girlfriends who just unselfishly stepped up and said oh we’re gonna do this for our girl. One person texted me and said we got you. All my life I have been blessed with good pals, but at this point in my life to feel that there are people who are so generous that they can anticipate what you might need and make it happen, was an act of love like no other. Not just them, but so many offers to help out, check in, send flowers, cards and words of encouragement. One person actually saw my FB post and he IM’d me with helpful words of advice and comfort. This time let me know that when people step up like that they are truly caring and compassionate individuals. A friend once told me years ago, when I had been deeply hurt by the actions of some whom I called friends, that some people are very generous with themselves while others are able to give in ways that touch a person’s soul. That is empathy.

It’s the small things that turn out to be big things and it means something. Over the years we have been there for each other,these ladies and I. I am thankful for the loving individuals in my life, not only my girlfriends, but my guy friends who checked in and offered advice and words and stories of encouragement via email and text as if they sensed that I could use a word on a particular day. One such friend sent me emails of encouragement before my surgery just as he did eleven years ago, then, sensing that facing a big surgery without my husband by my side I would be feeling extra anxious and alone. He was right and I am truly grateful for his kindness. I am thankful for all the unselfish love that surrounds me from family and friends. There is an unbroken bond between me and the people in my life who help to make my life extraordinary without wanting anything in return. No tit for tat here, just true love.

This Thanksgiving , even as I’m still digesting the loss of three more precious souls who were in my life, in my orbit, for a while, at various periods, I thank God that my 92 year old mom is well, my family is well, and my life is still full of joy. As I regain mobility I am grateful for the friends who found the time to be there for me when just getting the occasional check in text was enough for me. I am thankful for those who I have lost and grateful that they were in my life for a time as I learned lessons from each and every one, lessons that have remained with me as I move forward in my life.

I hope you too will find something to be grateful for in 2020. Whether it’s the medical professionals who have sacrificed and risked their lives to save lives, or the essential works who have also risked, many having lost their lives to keep essential services running to benefit all of us. Or whether it’s a friend or a relative who has survived COVID-19. It may seem like a hard exercise but think about and remember that you’re still here, and the alone time forces you to befriend yourself, go within and recreate your life in a way that enlightens your stay here as you find meaning for your life before your journey home. It will make this odd twilight time to have not been for naught. It will help you to look beyond the physical as you attempt to figure out what the year 2020 really means to each of us and to the collective “us”.

Thanksgiving Message from the Superintendent/Principal | The Henry Viscardi  School

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.

Grab Your Girls & Go

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Several years ago, I was at an outdoor event chatting with friends. I had just begun to write Brave in a New World and I was talking with a gentleman who, after having expressed his condolences to me, shared that he didn’t know what his wife would do should he die first. He went on to explain that his wife was very close to him and to her siblings but she didn’t have any other friends outside of her family. Apparently, she spoke to her sisters by phone nearly every day. He worried that should anything happen to him, she would not have friends of her own to support, embrace and comfort her. He went on to say she belonged to a church, and yes the congregation would be there to support, but having friends who could really be there for her in the hard times, was an area in which she was lacking. He said he encouraged her to seek out girlfriends, but she was reluctant to do so as she only felt comfortable with him and her family. I know that this a common issue for many.
When widows write me, often they’re looking to reestablish their lives, and meet people, but they’re clueless as to how to begin the process of connecting with new men and women.
I’m here to tell you that along with everything else that a widow or widower has gone through, the loss, the grief, acclimating to the loneliness, and the absence of their spouse, when the dust settles and they want to branch out and meet new people, the thought of putting themselves out there can be a daunting one.

Ring around the Rosie back in the day

When my husband passed away, I suddenly realized that the world had changed drastically. First of all, I was older, second of all many of our friends had been couples. I found myself thrust into an age when connecting and communicating with others was vastly different than it had been many years before. It wasn’t easy and I felt like a fish out of water. But luckily for me I’d had lots of girlfriends whom I’d remained close with over the years, and true to form, most of them rallied around me after my husband Chuck passed away. In the beginning of my loss, seeing friends became difficult for me because I didn’t want to burden them and I actually wanted to be alone most days.

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Soon, I found myself forcing myself to get out and meet those pals who were available. We’d have lunch, dinner, go to museums, meet after church, and see each other often. After awhile the meetups died down and there was the occasional phone call , but I was on the recovery journey and not quite sure where I’d land next. Luckily, I managed to make new friends which led to more new friendships. I found these people had fresh ideas and were tuned into living life in fun new ways. They had adventurous suggestions, and were available to meet, drink and be merry. After a while I began to see a future for myself as I enjoyed life more and more each day, while distancing myself from my grief and seeing life as filled with hope and possibility.

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Here’s the difference between new and old pals. Some of your longterm friends see you as you once were, now the widow. But you will be changing and the subtle nuances that are manifested may be missed by those who have known you for a long time. None of my old friends had lost a spouse, some had never married, so although they recognized the loss and sympathized with me, they sort of missed the internal metamorphosis that was taking place within me. The reason for this is because they carry your history and see you through that lens. Newer friends see you as you are, the widow, but also as who you are becoming now, therefore their impressions of you aren’t influenced by who you once were. Your tastes, likes and dislikes may begin to change once the veil of grief begins to slowly lift. For example, I may have loved to go antiquing thirty five years ago, but now I just want to search for modern accessories for my home. I may have loved to watch old movies, but because my husband was a movie buff I no longer enjoyed that pastime. Watching old movies just filled me with grief and sorrow and reminded me of losing Chuck. I once loved very light colored woods for my home, blonde shades, light oak, but my tastes changed with the times as I found myself gravitating toward darker wood stains and more contemporary styles for my home. I also discovered that friends who were a bit younger are less apprehensive about doing activities that longtime friends and peers may not encourage you to do. Online dating is a great example of one of those realms that younger pals will be more open to and will encourage you to do if and when you reach a point where you decide that you want to start dating again; but, then again, that will be up to you. Part of this shift in norms is because younger folks (even as little as 7 or eight years your junior) have grown up in an age where online dating is normal and they’re not as fearful of this new approach to connecting with people. They are also more willing to take a risk when putting themselves out there and will encourage you to do the same.This does not hold true for everyone, but it has been my experience as I recreated my life after death.
One must learn how to navigate new and old friendships, as you reshape your new alone life to suit your needs, and your lifestyle. But for those who find themselves at a loss for companions and would like to get out and do more with friends, here are some suggestions:
1 If you’ve never pledged a sorority this may be a good time to think about it. There are many graduate chapters of sororities and fraternities. This is a great way to meet new people and to have fun in the process. Check each fraternity and or sorority for guidelines and requirements for joining.
2 Become more involved in your place of worship. If you don’t belong to a place of worship and you’ve contemplated becoming a member of one, this would be a great time to visit a few churches to find one that’s suited for you. Many churches have social activities for different age groups, and they zero in on a variety of interests. I know that my church offers movies, Bible study classes, young adult get togethers, senior groups, and many opportunities to volunteer. Investigate and find a faith home that is comfortable and welcoming and explore becoming a member of a faith community. It’s a great way to connect with like minded individuals.
3 Look up old friends. Sometimes our lives become so busy especially when we’re married. We bump into people, old pals, and even discover former friends on social media. We promise to connect, but never do. After losing a spouse, this is a great time to reach out and connect with long lost friends and acquaintances. They will be so glad to hear from you and will be happy that you reached out. They will want to listen to you and be there for you as you tell them about your loss. I found that people I didn’t know quite as well, offered me the kindest words, and a patient listening ear. Sometimes, they have experienced a loss as well and the new connection can help you both to heal as you make future plans.
4 Bereavement Groups -a wonderful place to become a part of a like minded community. They’ll “get” you. You’re looking for a place where you can feel safe and steady. After several meetings your group will soon become your extended family. In my group, when the requisite sessions finished, we didn’t want to leave each other so soon, so we continued to meet for dinners for several years and even though eventually we all went our own way, we all felt stronger and better for having met each other.We had given each other the strength we needed and the encouragement to heal and to look forward to a new life without our spouses. Anything we wanted to do was encouraged by our group.We’d been through so much and we just wanted to now live our lives unrestricted and without judgement.
5 Volunteer -there are many organizations, religious communities, schools, hospitals, senior homes, and non profit organizations that would love to have volunteers. What a wonderful way to give back and begin to feel a part of a community of people again. It’s a great distraction from your own sorrows and it’s a great way to rebuild your self esteem.You will also make new friends and develop new social ties. It’s nice to meet people from diverse backgrounds and cultures. Sometimes this can open you up to a whole new world that you never even imagined and soon you will be learning and partaking in activities that broaden your horizons… all this, as you reclaim your life.

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My Wedding Party

Part of becoming a part of life again really is hastened by one’s connections to others. Whether old or new bonds, friends will guide you along the path of not giving up and inspire you to continue to live life to the fullest even though your spouse is no longer here.

It’s a good idea to develop friendships your whole life through. You don’t want to face life without your spouse totally alone. Even children will not provide the solace that a good friend will give. They will offer a shoulder to cry on, a listening ear, a helping hand. Some will be able to be there for you 24/7, others may not be as reliable. But if you have several pals you will be able to share the burden of your loss with a few and not overburden just one. A good friend will not interrupt your tears, and will listen to you as you repeat over and over again the story of your loss as this is a part of one’s bereavement process.
After you’ve begun to venture out and make connections with men and women, whom you have things in common with and whose company you enjoy, you will begin to heal.
Then grab your girls (guys) and go-wherever, whenever, as you follow the path to your new life and your new beginning.

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Our Memories Are Ours Alone

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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St. Gabriel’s Church

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

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

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

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

My mother at 90 with her four children

 

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

Did I Sign up for This?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

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 .

Finding Your Way after Losing a Spouse

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In the beginning……

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Celebrating my husband

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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To find out more about how you can heal after loss read Brave in a New World:A Guide to Grieving the Loss of a Spouse available on Amazon http://tinyurl.com/jnjs5fu or at LULU Publishing.com http://tinyurl.com/pesxa6e

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.

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