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

When the Light Goes Out Look Within

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I grew up in Brooklyn, New York. During my early years, I lived in South Brooklyn, in an area that is now known as Boerum Hill. I loved taking walks with my father and I’m sure my mother was relieved when I did, as I was a very precocious child, always talking, very curious, very sensitive. Life for me never was about the big picture, it was always about the details.

My father took me all over the. We rode on  the Staten Island Ferry, roamed through Prospect Park and the Zoo, the museums, Fifth Avenue, Rockefeller Center, and all the iconic New York City landmarks and monuments that make New York City what it is. I loved going out with my dad as it  was a special time between me and him. I could talk all I want, ask a zillion questions, and he never seemed to mind, in fact he encouraged my inquisitive nature and curious mind.

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On Sundays we would go out to get the papers, the Sunday New York Times and the New York Post, which was actually a liberal paper at that time, the voice of the worker. We never got the Sunday Daily News and, believe me, this was much to my chagrin, as I always wanted to look at the funnies. This small custom set me apart from my peers because my little school friends would chat about Dick Tracy and all the other other comic strips, and I had no clue as to what they were talking about. When I told them my parents didn’t get the Daily News, as according to their politics, they didn’t consider it a paper worth reading, my friends looked at me as if I had five heads. My mother and father, both with very strong political views , felt that this paper was very low brow, racist and an extreme example of yellow journalism, stoking the fears of some at the expense of others, but, oh yes,  I do digress.

One Sunday, as my father and I walked along the cobblestone streets of South Brooklyn, we passed a church, St. Agnes Roman Catholic Church, located on Sackett Street. I asked my dad, “What is that building?” He explained to me that it was a church where one went to pray to God. Now I did pray to God at night when my parents said my prayers with me but I was always intrigued by the notion of God. This beautiful, archetypal old church, where I assumed God lived, indicated by the triumphant tolling of the bells, usually as we were passing by, was a place that I was very curious about. My father said we could go “sometime”. Well, don’t tell me sometime, as I figured that meant soon which meant it would be happening imminently. I was a rather impatient little girl, a trait that has carried over into adulthood.

One day my father announced that we were going to go to Mass at St. Agnes. I was so excited, and I imagined that this meant we would be wearing masks. Hey, I was four or five….what did I know! We entered the beautiful church and found a seat in one of the back pews. The priest was so far away and was speaking in a foreign tongue; I found the whole experience to be amazing and intimidating. Anyway, I recited familiar prayers, as I smelled the incense, watched the procession of priests and altar boys and considered the sacred rituals to be somewhat of a mystery, but grand. When it was time for Holy Communion, this meant that my dad had to leave me in the pew while he made his way down the long, long aisle to receive the sacrament. Now if this were the present, I would’ve been able to go up with him, but back in those days there were many things that occurred in churches, deemed inappropriate then, but permissible today.When I looked like I was about to cry, my father asked a woman in the pew to keep an eye on me. She was very nice and pointed her finger to show me that my father wasn’t going to disappear, as it seemed to me. She motioned her finger to create an invisible trail that my eye could follow which reassured me that my dad was indeed in sight. You see, my father was my was my guiding light. I knew that everything was okay as long as he and my mother were near. I felt confident and safe.

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My husband Chuck was also a beacon of light for me. I didn’t have to see him, but as long as he was in my life I felt a sense of reassurance, calm, and security. This is what his presence in my life gave to me; he was my source of light and strength. Chuck was my my cheerleader, my backup guy. My father was like that for me too, as he felt that I could do anything and he was always cheering me on. When I lost my dad eleven years ago I mourned him woefully until the day my husband’s doctor called and said, “We think we see something on your husband’s pancreas.” I immediately tucked away my grief for the loss of my father so I could give full attention to my husband and the long hard road that awaited us both. I wished my father could have been there at that time for me, but again, he loved Chuck dearly, like a son, and I know he would have been sorely pained by news of Chuck’s illness.
I always knew that I could count on both of them and I felt  that when something went  left in my life, I had an added assurance that dad or Chuck  had my back. They were both like lighthouses in the distance representing a beacon of light which guided my steps. I always expected them to be there so you can only imagine that my life came to a halt when they were both gone within a four year span. Soon after I discovered that all I had was myself to guide and cheer me on. It was kind of like rediscovering my ruby red slippers and hearing Glinda the Good Witch utter the words, “Yvonne you’ve always had the power.” After all my anchors were washed away, I had to go deep and find my own beacon of light to help me as I adjusted  my sail and traveled in a new direction.

After I’d  left my first Mass with my dad, I complained to him that I was tired after that long service. I also told him that I didn’t like the fact that he had to leave me to go to Communion as I was afraid he’d disappear. I told him too, that I felt my first church experience had been very overwhelming and that I’d be fine not going again for a long, long time. I added that I was so surprised that we didn’t have to wear masks at Mass. Later that day I heard my father say to my mother, “Well, I don’t think she’ll be wanting to go to church again for a long time.” My mother said, “Well that’s good.” I heard them chuckle to each other, and I just thought they were so right. I didn’t want to risk losing my father in a sea of sacred pomp and ceremony and smelly smoke.

After a spouse or loved one dies, we sometimes feel as though a light in us has gone out. The energy, personality of the one we’ve lost meant so much to us, and we suddenly find ourselves in a long tunnel leading down a lonely, bleak road to points unknown. Our beacons of light have disappeared and one feels abandoned and alone. However, when we’re ready, we can reach out to a myriad of grief and recovery resources and search until we find the right one to suit our needs. That connection with others will help us to begin to feel less alone as we begin to repair our broken hearts and create a new life and our new normal.

We might also discover that the light we miss has now become a part of us. Our loved ones are a part of us still and our own inner light and strength will soon overshadow our grief as we become stronger. In time, we will come to know that we are being guided and strengthened from within. I like to call this the spiritual legacy left us by those who have gone on. So after awhile, look within, and you will feel a familiar presence no longer in the form of the lost spouse, or loved one, but now a part of the fabric of who you are and who you are becoming which is brave in a new world.

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Want to know how you can discover your light within ? Brave in a New World: A Guide to Grieving the Loss of a Spouse available on Amazon.com : 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

 

 

 

 

 

 

Finding Your Way after Losing a Spouse

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
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