Do It Anyway and Show Up for Yourself

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1.Getting past the pain of loss

2.Allowing the distractions to help you to heal

3 Creating new relationships.

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

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

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

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

They Are with Us More Now

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Do No Harm

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Grief and Loss: On Losing Friends

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

How to Draw Strength from Loss

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Daily we hear of so many tragic events that occur around the world.Recently,a woman at a gas pump was randomly hit and killed by car; people at an airport were shot and killed indiscriminately by a disturbed individual.Daily men and women lose children, parents, spouses and siblings. Sometimes people lose their whole family as a result of various accidents, and other tragic occurrences, often without warning.

How does one get past these losses, losses that occur with random regularity?I know from my own experience it is not easy. Unless individuals have gone through the experience of losing a loved one and dealt with the aftermath, no one can possibly know what the family members face.

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My husband was ill with cancer that awful period coinciding with Barack Obama’s campaign that was built on hope. That one word became my daily mantra as I prayed and hoped for a miracle. I remained steadfast in my commitment to the care of my husband and never gave up the hope that he could miraculously pull through.

One of the things that sustained me was what people around me said and more importantly,what they didn’t say. During this time, all sorts of folks, colleagues, friends, acquaintances shared with me their own stories of having dealt with the illness,specifically pancreatic cancer, of a loved one.But they always stopped short of sharing the inevitable outcome – death.And no one told me that my husband would ultimately leave this earth, never to be seen again.

I believe that through God’s goodness and grace, I was shielded from hearing things that would weaken my resolve which would have consequently caused me to lose faith. The hope that I clung to like a lifeline, kept me going until I knew that my husband’s “soul (was) sliding down to die”. (My Father’s Eyes – Eric Clapton)

After he was gone, I became almost catatonic as I numbly prepared for Chuck’s funeral. I knew that this was my new normal, not feeling, not being present, dealing with anxiety and panic feeling nervous and shaken. Although I didn’t appear this way to the outside world, this was my inner state and the beginning of a new life without my beloved.

How did I get past this stage?

I decided to face the music. The temptation to hide under the covers until who knew when was great, but my need to survive was greater. I fought the strong urge to run in place, delay the work that needed to be done. Instead I dove right in, crying, weeping, railing at God, sorting, donating, rearranging my home and my life. I wanted to blur the edges of my life with Chuck as I entered into the unknown. Little did I know that this was the start of my new beginning.

As the eighth anniversary of my husband’s death approaches, I’m reminded of the time when everything in my life was changing.New business and residential development in my neighborhood,new friends, new work, new home. I had this feeling of hope throughout the year I cared for Chuck and that optimism, though buried within the shadow of my grief, would years later slowly emerge as I began to live my new life.

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As I look back on it all I recall that I never took on the burden of “having to be strong”.For whom would I be doing this; to show somebody, what? I didn’t have small children that I had to be there for; I had only myself.When I look back on all I’ve accomplished since my husband’s death, I know that it’s this profound loss that has propelled and strengthened me. 

My strength is not superficial,worn for the comfort of others. My strength is in the rebuilding of my spirit and my belief in the ultimate goodness of humanity, life ,love and the hope of finding joy again.

When you have lost a spouse, you must know in your soul, that you are not bound by the expectations of others. Some will tell you to be strong, you’ll get over it, you’ll be okay, but none of these words will mean anything to you. They are mere words from those who wish to help.

Finally,you can choose to ride the grief wave however you wish. You can swim parallel to it you can go with the ebb and flow of the wave, or you can dive right in, it’s all up to you. I would suggest that you succumb to your brokenness, feel the weakness that accompanies grief.Feel the pain and cry, cry, cry; do not hold it in. The grief journey is a life changing experience and it is meant to be. But, eventually, you will become stronger because of it as it will become the bedrock of your new beginning.

Loss will transform you and you will come out on the other side strengthened by your ability to have gotten through this journey and you will be emboldened by the knowledge that you can now face your new beginning.

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

Hope in the Dark

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Transformative Power of Grief

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Several years ago I had a neighbor, whom I didn’t know very well. We would meet some mornings in our apartment building’s elevator. We were generally rushing to our jobs, but we were always very cordial to each other. She was an attractive young woman who dressed very stylishly. Her style was very conservative, classic and stylish and she always looked neat and prim. I liked her style, and we would compliment each other on our shoes, bags, outfits and so on, a lot of superficial, feel good morning blah, blah blah. She had a husband and one little son and from what I could see they were a nice little family. One day I noticed that her husband had lost weight. It didn’t seem unusual because we all were on the endless gym, run around the reservoir, diet hamster wheel in pursuit of health and fitness. Then, one day, someone mentioned to me that he had died. He’d battled cancer and now he was gone. This guy couldn’t have been any more than in his late 30’s, early 40s. After that, I would see the woman, my elevator friend, and she always looked pale, fragile and drawn, the new widow. She would stand in the corner of the elevator and it appeared as if she wanted to disappear into the wall. I didn’t know what to say to her really, but one day I told her I was sorry. She said thank you and she never spoke to me again after that.

The years went by and one day I saw she had a friend. He looked like a British rocker with one earring, spiky hair, very cool, funky and hip; the exact opposite of her conservatively styled now deceased husband. He was also of a different race, she being Asian and him Caucasian. The woman’s appearance  had also changed, she now had spikey hair; no longer neat and prim, now her clothes were hip, current and very downtown chic. When I saw her I thought, “Wow, that lady has gone crazy since her husband passed away. I mean she must’ve had a bit of a breakdown.” I just didn’t get it. I figured that her husband must be rolling over in his grave. I really didn’t know what that meant either, but it seemed an appropriate reactive thought. Eventually, I no longer saw her in the elevator, as she had moved away, off to a new life away from the old.

When I look back on that woman, having gone through what I’ve gone through since the death of my own husband, I realize now how little I understood about losing  a loved one and grief. I didn’t understand what one goes through nor did I really care. Losing a spouse had nothing to do with my life so how would I know or be interested in what a widow or widower goes through. After all, all the important men in my life were still alive at that point so, therefore, that whole scene was the farthest thing from my reality.

Losing a spouse is a transformative experience for the one who is left, and the changes that one goes through are an integral part of the grief journey. Some people remain fixed, frozen in time not able to move forward or evolve. Others, falsely believe that if they move on they will lose the essence of their deceased spouse, they will forget him or her or they will “betray” them. Others discover that another part of them emerges, seeking new experiences as well as searching for a new identity. As time goes on, they rediscover themselves minus their spouse. It’s all a part of the grieving journey, should one decide to embark on it.

There are many facets to human beings. Sometimes we’re not given an opportunity to explore all of who we are within our lifetime. After losing a life partner, one might have a desire to try a new hobby or travel to exotic far off places, search out new and different social connections, or go back to school. The death of a spouse, after the pain has started to subside, actually can inspire one to think about who they will be next, what they want to do next. The possibilities are limitless if we open ourselves up to the chance to reach for that unbearable lightness of being whomever we want to be, no holds barred. Rather than wallowing in one’s grief for the rest of  life, one must realize that there is an opportunity to transform one’s life and have a new beginning. This is what my neighbor did, I’m sure.

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It can be a little tricky if someone who has lost a spouse begins to make drastic changes in their lives.Well-meaning family, particularly in laws, and friends may not understand what their loved one is doing or going through. I would suggest that they keep a watchful eye, but to not interfere. When people grieve the first stage is the numb stage, and after they’ve moved through the tunnel it is as if they are awakening from a deep slumber.They have been sleeping wide awake. When they reawaken they begin the task of rediscovering themselves. They are  trying to make his or her way into their new world, bravely. The bereaved are, after all, still here “on the ground where it can be tough sometimes “, and after having gone through losing a spouse, they have a right to explore all possibilities for restarting life anew. This will take time, and those around should not set time limits on their loved one’s transformation after grief.

When my husband died, I redid our home to suit my own taste. To my surprise my own tastes were changing so I was able to make mistakes until I got it right. It was all a part of my personal evolution. I looked at my life and began to create a new one as I discarded the things that were no longer me, the old me. Everything became colored by my recent loss.I developed new preferences and tastes and discarded old ideas  that were no longer me, the new me. I became closer to some friends and more distant from others as my life took on a new shape. Some people remember you as you once were but, I soon discovered I needed people to see me as the new person I was becoming. Every change was a progression as I shed the skin of Yvonne as Chuck’s wife, and became me , Yvonne OMO (On My OWN).

There shouldn’t  be an expected code of behavior for the bereaved. They should be allowed to express themselves free from the criticism of others who expect the familiar. In fact those around should expect the unexpected. I am sure I am no longer anyone I ever was and I’m thrilled not to be, as I’m contented to be who I am now. The life-changing experience of losing my husband gave me an opportunity to be reborn. That same thing, I suspect, is what happened to my elevator friend. I understand everything now, and so much more.

When you are grieving you’re sleepwalking, but if one grieves consciously, he or she will begin to see the positive effects that a spouse’s passing can bring.There will be an opportunity to know more, to grow and to change, as one’s life should never be one of just passing through. I know that this is a different and new way of thinking about how a loss can be turned into something positive for those who are mourning. It is the opportunity for one to have a new beginning, finding yourself, your new self, being brave as you emerge anew. One can be transformed into a rock star or a rock; it’s a choice you’ve been given. Consider it a gift and a legacy from the one you’ve loved and lost. My advice is to always choose life.

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