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

Becoming A Listening Vessel

 

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When someone loses a spouse there will soon come a time when they will need someone else to listen to them as they mourn, asking rhetorical questions, telling their story of grief over and over and over again. I write about this often because it’s an important part of the griever’s journey, being able to talk to someone, and not be scolded, ignored, criticized or interrupted as they talk about what they’re going through.

When I was grieving and not really understanding what I was going through, I needed to tell somebody. I had taken an early retirement to care for my ailing husband. After he passed, I found that I was home when nearly everyone I knew was working so during the day, when things got really tough for me emotionally, I had very few people to talk to. Thank God for my brother in law, who had lost his brother, who shared the pain of the loss with me and we could talk to each other as if Chuck was still alive, neither one of us wishing to release him yet. It was an odd time for me also because there were moments when I wanted to talk, but most of the time I preferred to be alone rather than burdening anyone else with my sorrows.

Often, when people inquired about how I was doing, the conversation would invariably turn to them, telling their stories of painful childhoods, divorces, abandonment, separations and other emotional traumas they’d experienced in their lives. All of these  stories were totally unrelated to my experience, but I would listen politely nonetheless. And,of course, they would always end with a comment about how lucky I was to have had Chuck in my life or how I would get over “it” soon. These scenarios played out over and over again, until finally I decided to suffer in silence, as I began to feel “ashamed” for sharing my situation and I also began to feel that I should just be grateful for having had Chuck in my life. But, this is when I also was beginning to feel a transformation taking place within me as these occasional conversations began to complicate my raw feelings of grief. The insouciance on the part of some toward my  feelings didn’t sit well nor did it help to diminish my grief. In fact their actions had the opposite effect of compounding my feelings of grief with feelings of anger, and shame. At some point I would eventually distance myself from individuals who could not be there for me in the most giving and unselfish way. Being there for those who grieve is what I like to characterize as being a “listening vessel”.

I had a few friends  and relatives who could listen to me and encouraged me with stories of their own that were related to my particular situation.I was at a party the year of my loss and was talking to a friend who asked me how I had been.With my grief still raw, I shared the story of my loss and he listened for as long as I spoke without interrupting.And when I was done he offered condolences and heartfelt words of comfort. All of  those who were able to let me have my say, became my armchair therapists as I found my “sea legs”, acclimating myself to the long and rocky road ahead. They were my “listening vessels”.

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Not everyone is suited for that very role, and as we navigate the grief journey, we come to recognize those who can be there for us in that unique and special way. Empathy is not an ability that everyone can access. No blame is meant for those who can’t empathize, as many aren’t able to come to grips with their own grief , buried so deep, that it appears as if it no longer exists.

But I must tell you that falling apart is at the core, the essence of beginning to heal one’s brokenness. Unresolved issues always remain. Feeling the pain plays a part in beginning the process of healing wounds suffered long ago. When many people are confronted with the tears, hurts and the anguish of another, they do not want to be drawn into another’s pain for fear of “catching that feeling” thus tumbling down their own rabbit hole to face their own longstanding losses and grievances.

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I did have a very small number of friends to whom I was able to talk and repeat my unanswerable questions and emotional torment to. They listened, interjected stories related to  Chuck and Chuck and me. Sometimes they even helped to answer questions that lingered still. When I would walk away or hang up the phone from these very special individuals, their willingness to patiently listen was a restorative gift to my soul.Dealing with long-term hurts and losses, crying about them, writing about them, thinking about them, making peace with them is what opens one up to be able to be there with empathy for others. That is the making of a strong man or woman. Holding ‘it’ in actually creates people who are bitter, cold, angry, and emotionally distant. These are the people who wish for the bereaved to be done with their tears. Holding it in, pushing the pain away, keeping that stiff upper lip does not a strong human make. Holding on to hurts and losses will actually chip away at your spirit over time. Your body, no matter what physical shape it is in, will soon have to deal with those issues in ways we cannot predict. The key is to avoid being forced to deal with one’s inner emotional pain.

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When my husband could no longer move and was confined to his bed, I was tasked with being caretaker and “Dr.” on a daily basis. As his final days were drawing near, he was in terrible, silent agony and thankfully I had a hotline in the evenings to call whenever I felt a need for assistance. I did not want my husband to suffer or feel the pain and I wanted to help him more than anything. I ended up using that hotline several evenings a week. The people on the other end, mostly women, always showed concern and great empathy and in those last weeks I came to learn  that they “knew” what I was going through.These amazing women were not medical professionals, a fact which I learned when I called to thank them after my husband had passed. I expressed to one woman that I was grateful for her knowledge and assistance. Her answer was simple, “It’s what we do, because we all know……we’ve been there.”Widows and widowers giving back to those who are “on that road”. They knew what to do and say because they’d all been down that road themselves.

Some people lack empathy, and it is something one would have to work on developing but that, of course, is one’s choice. However, if people begin to work on their buried losses, grief and sorrows and deal with the pain, then that will create an opportunity for them, in turn, to offer to others the love, grace and mercy that they need in order for them to heal after loss.

Holding it in delays the inevitability of  having to put closure on deep rooted sorrows. The act of holding in grief, stuffing it, may seem to create a calm exterior, which belies an inner turmoil that no one else can see. Being able to have someone listen to your “story”, even if that listener is you, will help to ease your pain. It also helps to bring closure as well as open up the ability for you to empathize with others and become the listening vessels we all need.

 

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Author’s Note: Please leave your comments.I love to hear your stories of  grief, healing love, loss and new beginnings.

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

Coping with Grief and The Holidays

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I promise.

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

Rumblings in My Spirit

 

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My late husband Chuck and I were in our late 30s when we got married, and I was over the moon excited about marrying my beloved. He had been married twice before but still shared my excitement and happily joined me in planning our new life together.

I am an artist, and a formally trained jeweler. I dabbled a bit in painting, but jewelry making was my passion. In my early 20’s I was exhibiting my jewelry in galleries and it was selling in major dept. stores and boutiques in the Northeast. I also taught school, art in the early years, second and fifth in the middle years, art again at what would be the end of my professional teaching career, as I retired early and unexpectedly, to care for my ill husband.

After Chuck passed away and the dust began to slowly settle, I wondered how I would rebuild my life again. My slate was clean and I only had myself to think of as I navigated a new world that was foreign at best and scary at worst. There were times when I found myself teetering on the edge of extreme insanity and uncertainty.

As I began to wonder and think about what I wanted to do with my life going forward, I was forced to look at my past. I recalled that when Chuck was alive, in the years before his death, I was beginning to feel as if something was missing in my life. I was Chuck’s wife and we had a good marriage, but I was experiencing what I would characterize as a rumbling in my spirit. It was during these many periods of introspection that I discovered that I was yearning for something more. I felt that I was missing something in my life and I needed to do something different, although I wasn’t sure exactly what that would be.

I soon realized that these intense feelings of discontent were letting me know that I wasn’t being my authentic self or that I was not pursuing my own dreams apart from my husband.There was a reverberating noise that had me quaking inside. This strange feeling was separate from the aches I had from having lost my husband. As I thought back on my life with Chuck, I felt I had reached the point where I was beginning to feel that our lives had become humdrum, routine and boring. The ordinariness of our life together lacked the excitement and adventure that I craved but I didn’t know it at the time.I must’ve been experiencing a midlife crisis, but I put a lid on those feelings hoping that they would go away.

When Chuck passed and as I explored the many options I had for my life alone, I kept coming back to the things that had once excited me, gave me purpose and whet my creative juices. Soon I began to redecorate my home in new ways, bringing in more modern elements while discarding many of the things from my old life with Chuck. I had curated Chuck’s belongings which were now stored, given way, or incorporated into my new life without him. It took a moment for me to realize that I no longer had to respect another’s opinions about the way I would be in my life, or how I was changing my home or where I would travel next. I just had myself to consult and only me to answer to.

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Soon, I realized that I wanted to put my thoughts down on paper so I began to write. I’d always written even as a child, poems and stories, and as an adult I had produced 2 cable TV shows and as a freelancer had written several fashion and restaurant reviews for local newspapers.The difference now was that I felt what I had to say was important. I wanted to express how I felt about my grieving experience, and I wanted to comfort and support others with their losses.

My grief journey connected me to my spirit and I became more in tuned with what it was that I wanted, needed, out of my life. I soon began to feel more engaged with life and it was more than a cathartic experience; it was as if I’d burst out of a bottle and into an HD life full of new ideas and ways of being alive.

After years of marriage a couple can hit a wall – it can happen after five, seven, 15, 20, or 30 years. All of a sudden one or both may question “if this is all there is”. The routine of one’s life, the banality of it can sometimes leave one or both feeling as though “something is missing”.

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For me,finding the missing pieces became the start of my new beginning, getting back to my artistic roots writing, being creative, while not having to consider another’s opinion. It happened that my answers came after my husband was gone and this was the catalyst for my evolution as I began to explore my life in new ways, uncovering my desires and needs apart from anyone else.

When you feel rumblings in your spirit, it doesn’t mean that you want to disconnect from or leave your marriage, but it’s a good idea to address what is tugging at your spirit. You may find that you might need to step back from your daily routine and do some soul searching for a while.Those rumblings when addressed are what help us to grow. It means that a change has to occur in the way one thinks or does things.If this does not occur voluntarily then it will be forced upon you.

Remember life is not meant to be stagnant. Change is a neccesary part of life, it is what adds depth, texture,meaning and color to being alive.

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Although I couldn’t figure out exactly what was going on when I felt these longings and desires for that “something that was missing”, while Chuck was alive, it was when I was alone that I was able to dispense with my daily routine of over 20 years and listen to what my spirit was trying to tell me.I eventually got back to being my creative self by writing, sewing, changing my home around and designing a new life for me.

When we are able to understand what is going on within us, we will begin to feel in harmony with life. It’s a good idea to take the time to listen to what your spirit wants you to know. I was able to let my spirit be the driving force of my new existence, as a woman and as a widow. It took me in a creative direction that ultimately healed me and helped me to heal others.

Who knows what my spirit would have told me had my husband continued to live.Who knows if I would’ve even listened. But either way the key to my happiness was to address the yanking of my spirit and not ignore it as it would lead me in the direction that I needed to go, which ultimately would better serve me, the higher good of my soul and all whom I reach out to help.

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Read more about how to get through the pain of the loss of a spouse Brave in a New World: A Guide to Grieving the Loss of a Spouse available on Amazon, and Lulu Publishing.com

 

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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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

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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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Sacred Ritual

 

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When I was in the midst of taking care of my husband, I was actually in a vortex, the “caretaker vortex”.When I stepped outside of that bubble, I did normal things. I went to work, ran errands, did everyday chores, but once I stepped back into that “caretaker mode” I had a routine that kept me focused, organized and helped me to make sure that all of Chuck’s needs were met without interruption. It was my official responsibility, which I did with regularity like clockwork, over and over again. It was the same day every day, but there was a comfort in those routines, as I cared for Chuck and prayed for a miracle.

This was a special, almost hallowed time…doing those repetitive routines. I made sure his meals were prepared, doctors appointments were made and kept, the house was clean and germ free for him and I was always near in case of an emergency, of which there were many. This was my life, my new life after Chuck’s cancer diagnosis. I was thrust into this new world without warning and I had to step up to the plate. No more summer plans, no more family reunions, no more holiday family gatherings, birthday parties, movies or other normal activities that we did together. I was just making sure that my husband would survive his circumstance so that we could one day get back to  life normal. As I look back on those days which were hard, tiring, relentless, repetitive, and long I now take comfort in that very special time. It was a sacred time between my husband and me.

After my husband died and I emerged from the bubble, I felt as though I was stepping into a brand new world, a new life without my husband. It was all so unsettling and I felt off kilter. Soon, I would be able to move forward, but that would be a long time coming.

I am now convinced that my prayers for a miracle were answered. No, Chuck did not survive his circumstance, but he did have stage IV pancreatic cancer and there are many who do not survive past three months. My husband survived for one full year after diagnosis and I believe that our love, bond and routine kept Chuck here for a little while longer. Our new life was held together by our commitment to each other, our faith and our belief in hope. I’m sure I was more hopeful than he as his health began to rapidly decline toward the end of 2008. I’ve even come to the realization that our routine, my life in that sacred vortex with him, delayed his death. I am also convinced, had it not been for me, he would’ve let go of this life sooner than he did. I believe he hung in there for me and I know I kept him here for me.

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I’m not absolutely sure that I did the right thing, clinging to my husband’s fading presence, but I know that a long while after he had passed away, I would look back on that last year with him as something special. As hard as it was for me, I know it was even more difficult for my husband as his body, riddled with pain, deteriorated bit by bit. Little did I know that that experience was preparing me for the life I have now and since his death, I have, in time, been reborn.

Palm Sunday represents the foreshadowing of death and the road to triumphant rebirth. For me, it symbolizes all that I went through and with the advent of Holy Week upon us, I am reminded of my own long, dark journey into grief with the hope of a glimpse of light. When, after a long while, I finally saw it, I knew that that was my rebirth…..my new beginning.

I have now come to the conclusion that in the 22 years that Chuck and I were together, the period in which he was ill, saying that long goodbye, was truly my most sacred time with him. And when he died, I knew that he had also been reborn.

 

 

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