There’s a Sweet Sweet Spirit

When I was taking care of my husband Chuck during his bout with pancreatic cancer, some days were very, very tough, and grueling. It required patience, a virtue I was born without. It also required remaining hopeful, staying strong, maintaining my stamina and having the ability to Catch the Light,those little pokes from God that let you know he’s got you.

There were many days when a chance encounter would help to buoy my spirits. There were numerous random experiences that left me feeling temporarily cheerful and encouraged. I had to stay above the murky waters that beckoned me daily. It was important that I didn’t get caught in the undertow, as I would’ve been drawn into a sea of sadness, despair and hopelessness. Sometimes a smile or brief conversation with a stranger left me feeling buoyed. These random encounters are what I call Catching the Light. I felt that God was letting me know that I wasn’t being abandoned as I continued caring for my ailing husband.

One day the purchase of a phone made all the difference for me. I had purchased a new phone and I didn’t know how to set it up. So I made my way to the local phone store to get assistance. I was feeling a bit discouraged on that Fall day. I had been feeling kind of down and unsure of our future. My husband was on hospice care at home by this time and I was trying very hard to stay encouraged daily. We had nurses, doctors, arriving almost every other day to look after Chuck, and as wonderful and attentive and nice as they were, I just wished that my life could go back to the way it was, when Chuck was well and all was right with the world. Sometimes I hoped a nurse or doctor would say, “Hey we can fix this, he’s showing signs of improvement; your husband’s getting better”, but that never happened. Anyway, on this particular day I arrived at the store and it was very crowded, but there was a young lady who came to assist me. She took my phone and asked me several questions about my usage and blah, blah, blah. When it came time to input contacts there was a question about how many I had. At that time I rarely used my mobile phone, so I had at least 10 contacts and at the most, 15 contacts. The young lady had mentioned that her mom was new at this cell phone thing also. She talked about how my frequency of use mimicked her mother’s. We chuckled about the similarities of our phone experiences. Finally, she was about to transfer the contacts from my old phone into my new cell phone. She asked me if I had more than 250 contacts. I answered her with a question: “Does your mother have 250 contacts?” She looked at me, I looked at her and we burst out laughing. She knew the answer. We laughed and another customer chimed in and laughed with us. After she had finished with me, I left with my phone and I suddenly felt better about the day. I was grateful for that chance encounter in a phone store with a pleasant, kind salesperson who had an abundance of patience and good cheer. A few years later, after Chuck had passed away, I was in that store and saw that young lady and she immediately remembered me. I told her what a joy she’d been that day when I came in to get help with my phone. Then I went on to explain to her how much her kindness changed my outlook for that one day and she began to cry. It was a moment. I just wanted her to know how that chance meeting added a bright spot to my grueling harsh reality at that time.

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I also remember that when I would go to church alone I would sit in a certain pew, and after a while the people around me became familiar. Unbeknownst to them, I felt secure and comfortable as I made my way into the church that my husband and I had decided to join together. It was the church that we had joined nearly 12 years earlier, it was the church that buried my husband, and it was the church that, at that time, was beginning to assist me as I struggled with my grief journey. I recall a Sunday I came into church and it was crowded. I walked past my regular seat and there was someone in the seat. I didn’t want to disturb anybody and I didn’t see any more seats available so I just joined the man in the pew. The gentleman was very cordial when I had to bother him and tell him I didn’t have a program. This man, who did not know me from Adam, was so accommodating. He shared his hymnal, he shared the program, and just was very gracious to me. For a moment I felt a sense of comfort, as I used to come to this church and sit with my husband in our favorite pew as we participated in the service. So here I was sitting next to this man, who I did not know and he was just being so lovely. He didn’t seem annoyed that I was asking him to share his hymnal, he just did it automatically. I was very grateful. I didn’t want to feel as if I was a burden to anyone, even a stranger.

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Thus, here I was on this Sunday feeling a little out of sorts because I had been late and I didn’t have a program, but this gentleman was very kind and accommodating to me. I’m sure he would’ve done the same for anybody sitting next to him, but it meant a lot to me since I had come into the church flustered because I was a bit late. His kindness allowed me to get a grip, to relax and enjoy the service.
As the service continued, the congregation was called to sing Sweet Sweet Spirit. Now I love this song, and it was actually one of the hymns that was played at my father’s funeral. It was a fave of his. Unbeknownst to anyone around me, hearing it brought a tear to my eye as I thought about my dad and my husband and how I missed them both. A long time after, when I would think about that day, it finally dawned on me that the playing of that song was letting me know that there was a sweet, sweet spirit in that place that day. It was as if God was reassuring me that I was not alone, that I had not been abandoned, and that if I have faith my needs would be fulfilled. I left the church that day, not feeling alone, but grateful for a stranger’s kindness. This was a small act that would affect me beyond measure.

I would have several of these chance encounters that really encouraged me, or made me smile, or just allowed me to forget my grief momentarily. I consider these people and events that unwittingly helped to give me strength during what I consider the darkest days of my life, to be “sweet spirits”.Since that time, I always try to return a smile or a greeting when a stranger on the street smiles and greets me. I am a little shy so this was a bit uncharacteristic for me, but now it’s become a part of who I am now. You never know what someone is going through. A lot of times people look at people superficially and make all kinds of judgments and assumptions. But we are all humans on the planet and many people are struggling with acute pain, a disability, a dreadful diagnosis, addiction, or loss. So I try to remember to be patient and kind to others, returning a favor, you know passing on the light. I never know when some little thing I say or do will make a difference in someone’s day. Even if the effect is just temporary it can be just enough to lighten someone’s burden for a moment or two.

Life is for the living, but oftentimes people are walking zombies dealing with tremendous worries and hardships. Perhaps an act of kindness, a smile, a bit of patience, which I’ve recently acquired, will be just what one needs to get through one day. I’ve come to believe that when we try to be a sweet sweet spirit to others that after all is said and done, “without a doubt we’ll know that we have been revived, when we shall leave this place”.

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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 https://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 however, but 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 immediate 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 our “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, thus 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. If folks feel upset or insulted, that’s on them as you are only in charge of yourself and your well being. 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 holidays 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 conserve 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. However, a New Year’s Day brunch, or open house may seem less overwhelming and easier to navigate.

In this time 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 celebrations. 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 to put any interest above preserving lives. Now that people feel more comfortable about gathering with others who are  vaccinated, we can begin to resume Holiday traditions in person, always mindful of new rituals that continue to keep others safe.

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 .

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    Bow Bridge, Fall and New Beginnings

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 Central Park’s Bow Bridge symbolizes so many things to me. It reminds me of my late husband, Chuck’s, love for Central Park and how he used it’s vast natural resources to teach children science and marine biology, as well as give my son and his nephews many adventures there. They would climb hills, charging through the landscape, while exploring the high points and low points of this rich,lush, beautiful, free park. Central Park is the 5th largest park in New York City, and it is set on 843 acres of land.

At a certain point in the park, about 80th St, one can glimpse the towers of the majestic Beresford, a luxury prewar coop located on New York’s Upper West Side’s Central Park West. These towers remind me of the spires of another iconic building, the El Dorado. Seeing these towers prompt me to recall my father’s advice that whenever I got turned around in the Park going from Eastside to the Westside I should look for the towers of the El Dorado and they would always lead me home.

My Six Favorite Buildings on Central Park West - iLovetheUpperWestSide.com
The Beresford

The Bow Bridge, with its interlocking circle design on the bannisters has an even more specific meaning for me. It conjures up a memory of a lovely time at an art festival in a town far away from New York. It was five years after my husband’s death and I was beginning to live my life more fully while taking a leap of faith. As I perused the art along the streets, I was surprised to see so many artistic paintings of the Bow Bridge. I felt moved and proud of the many inspired interpretations of that beautiful bridge. Each one that I saw made me think,”My bridge”, in my little New York mind.

I truly believe everything happens in it’s own time when we’re ready ……the soul knows. This was the time that I emerged from the gray frost of winter into the crisp brilliant colors of fall. The risk to travel far from home, unearthed the key to my destiny and opened a new door for me. During that period, five years since my husband’s death, I began to write words that spilled onto each and every page from the depths of my soul.

I was no longer a bud and and little did I know, a blooming flower was about to emerge. Change and taking risks is what living is all about. Amidst all that life puts us through we are expected to have lessons, learn lessons and grow. Without learning the lessons, we will continue to have more lessons. However, if we don’t learn what we’re being taught, each new lesson will become more difficult, until we “get it”, on and on until our days are done.

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We cannot grow if we run in place, holding onto hurts, regrets, anger, jealousies and guilt. Running in place only digs one a hole until we become buried beneath our life’s “stuff”. Closing ourselves off is not playing it safe, putting up a protective shield, does not lead to growth and will not protect us from the emotional scarring that can come with living life. It only stunts our evolution, as we live with our myopic thoughts, barren and isolated, barricading ourselves behind walls of our own making.

Fall has always been a special time for me. As a former educator, that first September breeze, always made me feel that it was an opportunity to start over, to renew, to begin again. It was, indeed a new year, not unlike January 1st, which ushers in the New Year for all, this new year was a mid-year refresh. New lessons would be taught and learned, with end of year growth, hopefully. Then on to new horizons, newer lessons, chapters opened and closed, new journeys. Life is like crossing a bridge, some bridges not as beautifully embellished as the Bow Bridge, some tarnished and stained with mud, some rickety, some fragile, some painful underfoot. But by being present, letting go of the past, taking risks, each crossing will get easier and the burden lighter. These are the memories conjured up in my mind’s eye when I think of the Bow Bridge. This is a bridge that has withstood the weathering of time, and it reminds me of myself, as it and we continue onto our journey’s end…….toward always unfolding New Beginnings.

What landmark in your town reminds you of what you have endured since having lost your spouse?

After Loss: Change Is on The Way

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s up to you.

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

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.

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

They Are with Us More Now

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Out of the Storm a Silver Lining

 

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When my husband passed away, I found myself thrust into a place of not knowing what to expect. All my life I’d  been able to set goals and with careful planning I figured out how I could meet those goals. I am a planner, the offspring of two very organized parents. I inherited the Martha Stewart  gene  way before she was even heard of. I didn’t want to leave my life up to chance, so I perfected my organizational skills. Knowing that everything in my life with regard to my home, work or play was meticulously planned with backup plans in case things went awry, gave me a sense of security. I was the antithesis of Murphy’s Law:…. “Anything that could go wrong, wouldn’t”. I always made sure that there was little chance for failure.

Several years ago, I threw an annual whites fundraising event at the New York Conservatory Gardens. Anyone who knows the beautifully landscaped Conservatory Gardens in Central Park, knows the gorgeous and bucolic setting. Guests would dress in white, bring food to share and spend an afternoon mixing and mingling with friends, old and new. The day’s events included a guided tour of the gardens. Guests made donations that went toward the wonderful work that the Conservancy does including the perpetual upkeep of the gardens. It was always a beautiful event with folks out in full force, dressed to the nines in white. Some years there might be a special feature like a musical guest or children’s entertainment. One summer we had about fifteen chefs from the New York Culinary Institute who whipped up the most delectable summer dishes for beautiful guests in white on a beautiful summer day in August of that year.

But sometimes even the best laid plans can go awry

One year the weather started out beautifully, there were over 100 attendees, and everything was going well. All of a sudden the sky darkened and the 100 or so guests found themselves in the midst of a terrible thunderstorm which seemed to last for hours and hours. Beautiful outfits were drenched in an instant. Some people left, food got ruined, items were lost. A beautiful day turned into chaos by an unexpected weather event. Some guests huddled down in the Parks Department’s maintenance area where the wonderful park custodians let us take shelter from the unexpected storm. The forecasters had not predicted this, and we were all taken by surprise. I went home and changed from my drenched outfit and by the time I was finished the sun had come out shining brighter than it had all day.

I made my way to my parents’ apartment and was greeted by a gentleman offering me a glass of champagne with a lovely strawberry in it. Other guests having made their way there too, washed and dried off, continuing to mix and mingle as if that day’s events had never been marred by an unexpected thunderstorm.

Years later, after my husband had died, I truly fell apart. I felt like I had been dropped and had shattered into tiny little pieces. It was a long while before I’d be able to put myself back together again. As I began to re-create my shattered life I found that the new life being created was different than the one I’d had with my husband Chuck. As I emerged slowly into my newly blossoming present and future, I began to feel hopeful. As time went on I found that the new world I was entering was beginning to show signs of promise. I was developing new friendships, reconnecting with old friends, and beginning to think of my life as a clean canvas awaiting the first brushstroke of color. As my world changed from shades of gray to vibrant color, I was able to see new possibilities for myself as I rebuilt my life. I had been beginning to feel that something was missing from my life, but I couldn’t quite put my finger on what it was. Then I realized that I wasn’t feeling passionate about anything. It wasn’t just the loss of my husband but it was also not having a sense of purpose and enthusiasm for life. All of that had somehow disappeared while I was in the midst of my other life, grief and recovery.

An unexpected opportunity arose for me out of the ashes

As I recovered from grieving, I was beginning to paint a new picture with me at the center surrounded by a variety of possibilities for my new life and my new beginning. Soon I would be inspired by my circumstance to write a book. I had been drawn back to a passion of mine which was writing as well as a desire to assist others. This could never have happened had it not been for the loss of my husband. I soon realized that sometimes one’s life has to be shaken up in order for a new thing to emerge. Just like the beautiful event that was marred by torrential rains, later that same day the sun came out again shining brighter than it had all day. In my case, my life fell apart but soon I was able to create a new life as I allowed a dormant passion to take hold, inspired by the recent events in my life.

It would be a while before I could see and understand the direction my life would take. It would be an even longer while before I understood the gift, yes the gift, that my husband left me with. I now understand that sometimes old things must fall away in order for a new life to emerge. It’s not what I would have wished for but I believe it is a part of my destiny. This is what happened to me and if we all deeply examine the darkest events of our lives, possibly we can begin to see that as we start our new beginning, a new life can be better than the old one. It can be richer, fuller, more adventurous, more passionate, more intimate, more wonderful than ever imagined. By allowing ourselves to fall apart completely, unabashedly, we can emerge better than before.

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We must go deep to find that rainbow beyond the rainstorm, but we must first give ourselves permission to move away from grieving and on with living. It is what our loved ones would want for us, not to remain in the muck and mire, but instead to spring forth full of  possibility and the hope of being happy again.

 

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

 

 

The Past is the Past No Regrets

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I don’t know exactly when I stopped regretting past decisions in my life, but one day I decided that whatever my present life was, I would be grateful for each moment and look forward to the future. When it comes to one’s future, we’re usually blindfolded. It is an unknown, that we cannot see so why worry about an outcome that has so many possibilities, but people do. I watch people regret their pasts, believing if they’d  just married so-and-so or majored in such and such or moved away after college their lives would surely have been different ( different the code word for better or amazing). What people tend to forget is that you are always bringing yourself wherever you go. So no matter how much  brighter or how much more  wonderful we think our lives could have been, the fact is that if one had married so-and-so it doesn’t necessarily mean that our lives would have been better. People just imagine that life could’ve been much greater than one’s present situation, especially if the present has hit a lull, and so they live with regret. For example, if Nancy had married Dan instead of Dan having married Susan then maybe, one falsely believes ,Nancy’s life would’ve been like Susan and Dan’s wonderful life together, but life doesn’t work that way. For one thing we’re all different, and any of the many combinations of two people are not always going to have the exact same result. This is because we all have our own unique personalities, and we bring our various baggage and energy wherever we go. All of these variables impact the circumstances and outcomes of interpersonal  human relationships. The same goes for career choices, where we live, having children or not. Ultimately, we create and change our own circumstances. Then as we live our lives and go through the highs and lows, particularly the lows we begin to fantasize about the what ifs. After all, fantasy is far better than reality, far easier than fixing one’s present situation.

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Life is like riding a wave and after we’ve had several years of living out in the world under our belts there are going to be times when we feel dissatisfied, or even unfulfilled. Often this is when many  bring out the bag of regrets. We begin to falsely believe that had we just made a different choice our lives would be so much better or further along or blah,blah,blah. Guess what, we can never know in advance how the path we’ve chosen is going to unfold, but we always imagine the choices we forfeited or just didn’t make as being better. However, it’s just possible that the choices we did make saved us from a truly disastrous life,but alas we will never know. Sadly, many people end up with one foot in the life they have and the other foot in the life they want.

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The night before my husband died, I’d  had a very exhausting day. Chuck was very restless that evening and I promised him that we would get to the hospital in the morning, but I just needed to get some sleep. I wanted him to try to sleep but he was not feeling himself, in pain, and having very unusual sensations. For example he said he felt,” as if he was being pulled from out of the top of his head .” I thought he had a headache, but later I would come to know, that he was actually getting ready to pass on. I held his hand that night and woke up briefly in the morning, and then, with what seemed like a veil over my eyes, I fell off back to sleep only to awake and find that he was gone. I cannot tell you how full of regret I was about the things that took place that night before. I wished I had remained awake with him to watch him, I wished I’d understood what he was trying to tell me, but he didn’t really know and I didn’t really know what he was describing. I reassured him that  in the morning we would get to the hospital and they would be able to explain everything. For the longest time after Chuck’s death, I would feel guilty and full of regret over how our last night together was spent. So part of my initial grief was tinged with guilt and remorse, and I held onto those feelings for a very long long time. I told very few people and of course the very  few I did tell reassured me that Chuck was in a better place, it was his time and I should not add guilt to my sorrow.

Months later, I had a dream and in it my husband was letting me know that he loved me, that I had done nothing wrong and that I should let it go. After that I realized that I was only hurting myself more by thinking of how the evening would have been different had I been awake to save him. I also understood it was not meant to be, and that it was his time to go. In addition, I realized that I was not suppose to be a witness to his death and so events played out the way they were meant to. It was a while before I came to terms with all of these feelings and emotions about that last night. I know now it wasn’t going to go any differently, the outcome would’ve been the same, Chuck would’ve died and I would’ve still grieved sorely.That dream gave me permission to live in the present instead of compounding my grief with feelings of remorse. It wouldn’t have done me any good to have continued to replay that last evening, over and over again and probably would’ve added  a layer of guilt to my anguish and heartache.Whether Chuck really came to me in that dream, or whether the dream was conjured up from my subconscious, either way the message was clear that I should let it go.

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None of us will get an opportunity to relive our lives, and when I see folks repeatedly lamenting how their lives could have been better, richer, fuller, had they made different choices, I cringe and feel for them. One can never know how life would’ve been different had one, to paraphrase James Taylor, “ gone home another way.” It’s easier to run in place while looking in the rear view mirror of our minds. We must give ourselves permission to let go of our past and the choices we did or didn’t make. Rather than holding onto these ideas, pulling them out every now and then, dusting them off and mourning these perceived losses, we must learn to let them go. Remember, these are just ideas and experiences that no longer exist and lamenting them regularly can interfere with the lives we’re presently living. The tighter we hold onto them the more we miss out on being in the present, and the more we miss out on being in the present the more we miss out on our real lives.No matter how tough life gets, we always have a choice and we want to avoid those choices that imprison us. In fact,what people create by living in the past are stumbling blocks, obstacles, blockages that prevent them from saying,” Hey I want more out of this life and I am going to grab onto the brass ring.” Who knows, we might actually decide to make changes in our present lives that will enrich the here and now and, change our future.

When you grieve, should there be any regrets that you have about your lost loved ones, broken promises, things undone, words unsaid, let it go. If you imagine those you have lost as being in a place of all love and all-knowing, then understand that they are in your corner and want you to continue to live with vitality and enthusiasm. Those who are dead do not hold you responsible for anything, period. Experiment with being present and you’ll find that eventually, when you begin to move past the pain and sorrow, you will experience a life filled with possibilities minus the regrets.Life is not over ’til it’s over, but for some it’s over everyday that they live.Take this challenge, change one thing and begin to have the life you want, as the past is done and the present is all we have…..so be brave, step in with two feet and live your life with no regrets.

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Follow me on Instagram https://www.instagram.com/thebravewidow/

To read more about my grief journey and how you can  navigate yours read Brave in a New World: A Guide to Grieving the Loss of a Spouse, available on Amazon.com http://tinyurl.com/jnjs5fu

Please feel free to write a review on Amazon…….

As You Live Don’t Let Life Pass You By

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About a year or so before my husband fell ill with pancreatic cancer, I was beginning to feel rumblings of discontent in my spirit. I wouldn’t call it a midlife crisis, but more of a feeling that something was missing in my life.

I thought that maybe I needed to think about redoing my home and make several other  lifestyle changes.I felt my apartment could use a fresh coat of paint, maybe the addition of moulding to add character. These were all ideas that I knew would not have gone over well with my husband, as he was anathema to change. I also began to think about ways of reigniting my creative spirit. I was, after all, an artist, and I’d once designed jewelry, but now I was feeling that maybe painting would be something that I might want to explore. Writing was not something that I thought about doing , although going back into independent television production , which involves writing ,were ideas that also came up as I gave serious thought to my life and tried to quell the “uprising in my soul”.  At some point, I began to feel that something was missing in my life, not our life, just mine. I would spend a lot of time thinking about myself and my life and purpose. I had the “what’s it all about Alfie” blues. A lot of deep thinking occurred as I dwelt upon why I had these odd feelings of discontent.These were my intimate thoughts that I did not share, as I did not want my husband to misinterpret these feelings as my being unhappy with him, us, our life. Chuck was a black and white guy and he would not have heard the gray if I’d tried to explain what I was going through.

One day, a few months before Chuck became ill, it hit me like a ton of bricks: life was passing me by.I began to feel that my life lacked meaning and I was beginning to explore ideas on how to make it a more purpose driven life. It was an ongoing process, this period of self-exploration, interrupted, unfortunately, by an event that would change and shape my future in ways I could not have imagined.

Long after my husband died, as I faced my new life alone, I soon came to know that I was now faced with an opportunity. I could stand frozen in time waiting for life to happen to me or decide to be  reborn.

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Moving one’s life forward after loss is not an easy task. It takes a willingness to wake up from the sleep of sorrow and grief and continue to do things that move one’s life forward. If we linger too long in our grief it becomes a security blanket, there with you when you wake in the morning, a shadow throughout your day, tucking you in at night. You can become so comfortable in that place that the longer you remain there, you may prevent yourself from moving on and beginning your life anew. It is important that we take responsibility for the obstacles that we place in our life. We may be dealt a hand that we feel is unfair, but it is how we play that hand that will help us to decide whether the glass is half empty or half full.

Many people, even those who haven’t lost a spouse or loved one, let life pass them by. They think about the things they would like to do, dream about them, wish for the opportunities, but then do nothing to manifest these dreams, hopes, and ideas. People feel powerless when really all the power is there for the asking ; it depends on how one sees one’s plight. No one can move past the pain of grief except the person who grieves. Going to a grief group, or getting individualized counseling , developing a new interest and spending time with friends are all good starters for rebuilding a life that has been impacted by loss. We are essentially, if one can look at loss this way, after a time, being given an opportunity to be reborn. Everything that was familiar is no longer; nothing is the way it once was.

I remember that I  felt as if I was learning how to live all over again. The shock from the loss was so intense, that I would see people and not be able to recognize them, it was what I call a widow’s amnesia. But with perseverance and the will to move my life forward, I began to regain my footing in the new world I now found myself in. I thought that I, the sensitive one, would never be able to get through the intensity of the pain at that time.
Getting back to the rumblings in my spirit, the feeling that I needed a change…… all this occurred before my husband became ill. I’ve asked myself this question : Was it an omen? Was it a sign that a change was about to take place? I don’t really know, but I do believe that our  spirit is the place where our intuition is housed and it is ever guiding us and sometimes can warn one of danger ahead.

I have decided that however brief my life with Chuck, I am grateful for his temporary presence in my life. What I learned, our experiences together, can never be duplicated or erased from my memory. His illness and death, an intimate time between only him and me, would be the ending of our life together. After his passing, and after a time I was given an opportunity to be reborn.

I revisited the rumblings in my spirit that I had experienced a few years before and decided to look at them more closely. I have taken my  circumstance and chosen to be a part of the world again. I’ve  rediscovered my love of writing, and sewing and singing.

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When we lose a loved one we do end up with a choice. We can sit on the sidelines and watch our lives drift along and live in the past with regrets, or we can take the new opportunity to be reborn and claim our new life with gusto.

It has been said that many people die with their music still in them. Why is this so? Too often it’s because they’re getting ready to live, but before they know it,  time runs out. I would suggest that we don’t risk dying with our music still in us, take off the earphones, be reborn, and live.

 

 

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  Barnes and Noble, and all other e-booksellers.

 

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