There’s a Sweet Sweet Spirit

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Coping with Grief and The Holidays

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I promise.

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

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When Love Is Interrupted

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Sunday, January 24, 2016 was the seventh anniversary of my husband’s death. At some point near that date I would make my way to the cemetery and sit by his grave for awhile. I hadn’t been up there in almost two years at that point in time, as I no longer, had the need to go as often as I once had.

Prior to the first time that I went up to where Chuck is buried, it took a while for me to gather the courage. It may seem odd as many after loss are eager to visit their loved one’s grave soon after the funeral. I had mentioned to my bereavement group that I hadn’t been since the burial and, that I was planning to go soon then five months since Chuck had passed. They didn’t judge and gave me gentle words of encouragement. When I arrived at his crypt, I placed my hand on the cool marble, traced my fingers over his engraved name and wept and wept. The sounds came out of me like a soft lament from my heart to God’s ears.

Biblical Counseling Coalition | Psalms 42 and 43—The Gift of Lament

When Chuck became ill out of the blue in December 2007, brakes were put on our normal life, the sound of the screech reverberating in my soul of souls. Our life would never be the same again, as we embarked on a new journey, one given to us on a platter made of lead. But through it all we continued to maintain our love for each other and it is that abiding love and our individual and collective faith that carried us through from diagnosis to his last breath.

Now however that period in my life finally feels like long ago and I’ve learned so much from all that I’ve been through. I’ve gone from not wanting to live without my husband, to rediscovering a new inner strength as I began to explore new possibilities for my life. I’ve gained a new perspective on the world and I’ve found my place in it. Even after his death, I could still feel Chuck’s transformed love surrounding me as I went about each day. It is that feeling of eternal love that has guided me up to the present. I’ve also gained a sixth sense about things as I’ve felt myself being pointed in the right direction, although I’m not always quite sure where I’m heading.

Love is an intangible thing, emotion …feeling. If it is truly there between two people, it is what will remain when life ceases for one. The remaining essence of that love can in fact become so strong that it seems palpable to those who “feel” it. But we must not  become so attached to these feelings that it entraps us as we run in place, mournful, reclusive, full of sorrow and  melancholy. We want to avoid getting caught up in a fantasy world of our own making, as we cling to our memories, instead of creating new ones.

Fading Away - Living Through Depression

Love is never interrupted as it is “that thing” that lives on eternally. Those of us who have loved and lost a loved one are truly fortunate to have had an experience that oftentimes eludes many for most of their lives. The fact that we have lost the person, doesn’t negate the fact that the love of that person, the beauty and the experience of having had him or her in one’s life, even if but for awhile, should be the overarching theme of a time in our lives that we will one day be able to look back on with warm feelings. If we remember the story of Victor Hugo’s daughter Adele H, note that she spent her entire life chasing after unrequited love. We do not want to spend the rest of our lives chasing after a love that we no longer have in the physical, making our experience of love lost more acutely painful than it should be.

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When we grieve and recover, we can begin to rebuild our lives or we can decide to hold on tightly to our grief and pain so as not to “mar the legacy” or “lose the memory” of the loved one. This choice is always up to those who grieve. Take heed however, the longer we hold on, more than likely our lives will once again become interrupted by the physical manifestation of that tight grip, somewhere down the road..

Love is meant to be loving; it is not meant to be a choke-hold on one’s life. Your lost loved one’s spirit does not want you to disrupt your life here any longer than need be. When love is interrupted we must try to avoid blocking the residual essence of that love. When we release our grip on the past we will begin to allow a new experience to take hold in our lives.

Remember, love may have been interrupted, but it is never-ending and that feeling, the essence of what two people had, is what always remains.

GoodTherapy | After the Thrill Is Gone: The Science of Long-Term Love

 

To find out more about how you can heal after loss read Brave in a New World: A Guide to Grieving the Loss of a Spouse available on Amazon https://tinyurl.com/r6txttsy

 

    Bow Bridge, Fall and New Beginnings

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bud Bloom Blossom Photograph by Mike Reid

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

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

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

This Thanksgiving

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Grab Your Girls & Go

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

Ring around the Rosie back in the day

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

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

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

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My Wedding Party

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

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

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Stories of Hope and Renewal -Bob Ellison

This week’s blog is written by author Bob Ellison.Our story is one of loss, hope, love found, friendship, voyages and synchronicity. Unfortunately in the first picture I’d  had a bad hair day….LOL
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Jerry-Yvonne-Bob-DebbieI love this photo! Debbie and I are the couple on the right, and Jerry and Yvonne are the couple on the left. The real story, however, is the couple in the middle. That’s Yvonne Broady, author of Brave in a New World: A Guide to Grieving the Loss of a Spouse, and me, Bob Ellison, author of The First Snow: A Journal about a Man’s Faith-based Journey through Grief. The occasion is our first face-to-face meeting after knowing each other for three years via long distance through emails, Facebook, and then via Skype (with me in Washington state and Yvonne in New York), as we co-facilitate a grief and comfort group, Matthew 5:4, hosted by the Reverend Debra Northern of The Riverside Church of New York since May 2016.Bob's & Yvonne's Books

We both lost our spouses to cancer, she in January of 2009, and me in November of 2010. We both turned to writing as a form of healing from our losses. In Yvonne’s book, she writes about her grief experiences to help others know what to expect on their grieving journeys as they try to recreate a new and vastly different life without their spouse. My book is a journal…a diary…I kept as my wife’s primary caregiver after she was placed in hospice care at our home. I originally began the journal so our sons could see how much we loved each other, how I cared for their mother, and so they would also know us as people, not just as Mom and Dad. The journal also shows how I began to grieve for the loss of my wife before she passed away, as her brain tumors eroded her motor skills and memories, how I was losing her more every day, and how desperate I was for a miracle that never happened. I also put those feelings into emails to our friends because they wanted me to keep them updated on Lou’s deteriorating condition. I kept writing, both in the journal and emails to our friends, through her memorial service in December, and then made a conscious decision to end my journal on New Year’s Eve of 2010.

We both attended bereavement groups in our respective cities, and we both sought to receive solace through our writings, first by ‘getting it down on paper’ to get it out, and then by “passing it forward,” by sharing our experiences as we traveled the path through the pains of our losses and the overwhelming grief. Though I had not written much before, I became somewhat adept at putting my feelings of loss into emails that found their way farther across the United States than I would have dreamed. The responses I received from former high school classmates and from people with whom my wife and I used to work were gratifying because many told me they had no idea how their surviving parents felt after they lost their spouses. My emails had described the pain, the longing, and the loneliness they realized their surviving parents must have felt. Some told me my emails changed the way they saw and treated their fathers or mothers because they were now aware of what they had gone through. I kept all of their emails out of gratitude because they took the time to write back to me.

It was some time, though, before I began considering assembling and publishing my journal because I was still grieving. When I was my wife’s caregiver, I was getting about four hours of sleep every night. After she passed away, and even through my bereavement group sessions that began nine weeks later, I was still getting four hours of sleep every night no matter what time I went to bed. Every night I prayed to God that I would die in my sleep to simply end the pain of her loss. About three weeks into those group sessions, I almost got my wish because of a severe hypoglycemic event one night that awakened me. I knew this was my ticket out. I could let my blood-sugar level fall farther until I lapsed into a diabetic coma, but for whatever reason, I got up and made it to the kitchen to get something to eat. As I sat in my dark living room recovering, I realized that I wanted to live just a little more than I wanted to die…and I wanted to live for me. Though I never again prayed that I would die in my sleep, it took some months before I was comfortable enough to go anywhere except to my bereavement group sessions or grocery shopping.

As a result of my bereavement group sessions and the group leaders who encouraged us to keep a journal, I began to incorporate the emails I sent to friends and their email responses into my journal. I wanted to show our sons how much their mother and stepmother meant to our friends, and to me. I also began to venture out more. I was getting used to being alone, I was getting to know myself better, and I was becoming more self-confident. I was beginning to feel better, to sleep better and longer, and I was beginning to have good memories of our life together. I was beginning to remember her as she would have wanted. I began to appreciate being alive. Though I had ended my journal on New Year’s Eve of 2010, I continued to write a series of “Random Thoughts” and post them on Facebook as most of whatever thoughts I had were totally random, and I continued to send and receive emails from friends. The writing helped me to vent, to continue to put my feelings into print, and to let people know what I was thinking and how I was coping. Several of my friends, including some church members, urged me to save all my emails and put them into a book because it would help people understand they weren’t alone in the way they felt after losing a spouse. They said I had managed to put their emotions into words, and they thanked me. They told me I could help so many people. They were the ones who really planted the seeds for me to get my journal published.

I’ve written about this before, but during this time I also remembered one conversation my wife and I had before the brain tumors began to steal her memories and motor skills, a conversation I didn’t want to hear at the time. She told me that if she died, she wanted me to find someone new and love them the way I loved her because I had too much love left in me to go to waste. For a while, I felt guilty for remembering that conversation, but by the end of April, just over five months after she passed away, I posted a short bio on some dating websites explaining I was a recent widower and wanted no more than coffee and light conversation. Most of my outings were a “one-and-done” thing, and some of them didn’t end well because I found out several ladies had time lines and agendas for finding a man. I was not that guy.

Within the next four months, I had dropped off all but one of the dating websites, taken two two-week vacations including the California vacation that Lou and I had planned to visit her niece, nephews, and oldest sister just before she was diagnosed with brain tumors, and a vacation to Montana for her (and now my…) family reunion, a trip to Glacier National Park, and then down the east side of Lake Coeur D’Alene on the way home. Between the two vacations I took just two weeks apart, I had driven about 4,000 DSCN8834 - Copymiles, I had been to places I’d never been before to see things I’d never seen and had taken over 2,500 photographs. I had even played my guitar and sang in an impromptu one-man ‘show’ at a hotel in Cottage Grove, Oregon one evening at the request of the hotel staff, as well as sat alone on the shore of Flathead Lake in Montana one evening and played my guitar and sang to the moon. I missed Lou so much, but I felt whole again and renewed. I also felt that she was with me on my travels, watching me grow and heal emotionally and getting used to being without her. Toward the end of that four-month period, I had begun cleaning out my house. It was nine months since Lou had passed away. During this time, too, Debbie and I were falling in love.

Since I wasn’t traveling anymore, I had more time to assemble my emails and their responses and incorporate them into my journal. On a whim, I went online and found a Christian publisher and contacted them out of curiosity about what it would take to find out if my journal was worth publishing. I was asked to send my manuscript to them for review, so I did. Less than a week later, they called me and signed me up. Over the next three months, did some editing, I added a Forward, an Afterward that included a couple of my Facebook “Random Thoughts” and included responses, provided photos for the front and back covers, developed a title, a short biography, some information about “the author,” and why I wrote my journal the way I did.

You see, in all my readings, in all my efforts to find out how men grieved, I found nothing written about the depths of emotion that a man could experience…that I had experienced. Everything I read was so clinical, so ‘proper,’ such as: You may have feelings of anger, at God or at your spouse for leaving you, feelings of loneliness, abandonment, guilt or despair. These feelings are normal. As it states on the back cover of my book under A Note About the Author: Bob Ellison is new to writing but felt compelled to put his words and feelings on paper, because in all the readings he found n grief, he found nothing that showed the emotion men felt when they lost their wives to death. It was all so clinical. This is not. This explains how and why my book…my journal…was written and published. I did read one criticism of my book, and it mentioned that it got a bit repetitious. Yes, I must agree that it was, but that’s what happened when I became my wife’s primary caregiver and watched her die a little every day. After all, it’s a journal…a diary, and caring for a person…my spouse…during her final days was very repetitious. I wasn’t spinning an action-packed story, I simply wrote it the way it was.

As I understood it, Yvonne had become curious as to how men felt when they grieved because not much was ever written about how we really felt when we lost our spouses. I think my journal may have changed that. Because of this, Yvonne contacted me through my publisher, and we began to email each other. Over a period of a few months, we became like brother and sister on our grief and healing journeys. We both wrote blogs (and still do) so others may know that the struggles, the loneliness, the pain, and that life, in general, can get better with time. We try show them the small realizations that they are beginning to cope with a new and very different life, that they are slowly growing and healing, that they are becoming, and can be, whole people once again, and that there is hope they can be happy again.

Matthew 5-4 Group PhotoThen, in early 2016, she asked me if I would consider helping her co facilitate a grief and comfort group hosted by The Reverend Debra Northern of The Riverside Church of New York. They would set up a meeting room, and I would Skype in once a week, every Tuesday at 5:00pm EDT. I accepted, and we began meeting in May of 2016. Debra, Yvonne and I wanted to make that room, that meeting, a safe place for them emotionally. We wanted them to know that there was no right way or wrong way to grieve, there was just grief. We also wanted them to know that there was no time limit to grief, that it was their grief and it was going to take as long as it took. For over a year we met every week at the same time. We shared our stories, our grief, our tears, our setbacks, our little victories, and our hopes. Around August or September of 2017, we began to meet every two weeks.

At first it was difficult because the meeting had become an emotional ‘safety net’ for everyone, a Safe Room where they could share their hardships, their health issues, their lives. We had all bonded because we had one huge thing in common…we had all lost our spouses, and they felt comfortable with each other and with us. It was a struggle for some because they had to wait two weeks between meetings, but soon they were getting used to it. I continued to Skype in every two weeks from Washington state, and they began to meet socially for lunches and dinners during the “off” week. That helped ease the ‘withdrawal’ from the meetings. After a couple of months, I could tell by our conversations they were beginning to heal.

During our meetings, there were times we discussed individual’s travel plans, weekend getaways, and vacations, and sometimes the talk was about when were they going to get to meet me in person. Truthfully, I had begun to think about it after the first year, but my Debbie was still working. Occasionally, Debbie would ask me if I thought about it, and I would say yes, but she was still working, and I wanted her to be able to come with me. To make a long story shorter, she had decided that she was going to retire in 2018 and worked it out with her boss that she would retire around February 1. Little did I know that she began to plan our trip to New York for my birthday in April. It was because of her that we went. When she told me about it, we both began to plan the trip and I finally told the group that Debbie and I were coming to New York to meet them and to do a bit of sight-seeing in the city. I couldn’t believe how excited they got. I know I was! We decided that we were going April 11th through the 18th, and I’d be celebrating my birthday in New York!

Yvonne planned a welcome dinner for us on Thursday evening, we would all meet again Sunday for lunch at the Landmarc Restaurant at the Time-Warner Building on Columbus Circle, Debra would guide us on a tour of The Riverside Church Tuesday afternoon, and Cecelia planned a dinner meeting for us at her home on Tuesday evening, April 17. The rest of the time was ours to see some of the sights of New York. We had booked a flight out of Sea-Tac Airport at 6:30 a.m. on Wednesday the 11th, so we spent Monday doing laundry and trying to figure out what to pack. On Tuesday, we finally finished packing around midnight and went to bed for two-and-a-half hours before getting up at 2:30 a.m. Wednesday, having a cup of coffee and tea, getting dressed, and heading for the airport parking and shuttle. We arrived in New York around 5:30 p.m. after a two-hour layover in Detroit and checked into our apartment in the Murray Hill area. That night, we walked around Murray Hill, saw the Empire State Building lit up, and found a take-out Chinese food restaurant with excellent food about five blocks from our apartment.

Thursday morning, after we walked to Times Square and got our hop-on/hop-off tour bus tickets and tickets for the Empire State Building tour, and after taking a lot of photos, we walked back to our apartment and got ready to meet the group. That evening, April 12 at 7:00 p.m., we all finally got to meet face-to-face at Yvonne’s home in New York. For the first time, I got to hug them all, and introduce them to Debbie. There were tears of joy all 20180417_195210around, laughter, and disbelief that we were finally meeting face-to-face. Debbie and I got to meet Yvonne’s son and mother, too! It was a most special evening, filled with welcome, with joy, with more laughter, with more hugs, good food, and with love. The time flew by too quickly, but it was so good to be able to finally see everyone in person and see what beautiful people they all are and, at long last, to talk with them all face-to-face. It was such a gift to see them, especially my dear sister, Yvonne, who opened her home and her heart to us.

Debbie and I spent Friday taking the Hop-on/Hop-off Bus Tour, with seats on the open-air upper deck, through the downtown/Times Square area and then south to Battery Park for a glimpse of the Statue of Liberty through the trees along the shoreline before turning north and dropping us off near the United Nations Headquarters. Saturday, we took the walking tour of Central Park followed by another bus tour that headed north past Columbia University, through Harlem, around the northern border of Central Park, then down the east side of the park along the “Museum Mile” to Times Square. We walked back to our apartment from there. I’ll write about our New York sights and impressions in a later blog. I will say, though, that the bus tours around Manhattan give one a better overview of the area, complete with a running commentary of the area’s history. The tours are worth taking.

20180415_162332Sunday, we all met for Lunch at The Landmarc Restaurant at the Time-Warner Building on Columbia Circle. It was another special day, sitting in the restaurant and talking around a large, round table, sharing stories, sharing and acknowledging the progress and growth all had realized since their first meeting with the group. The food was good, but the company and camaraderie were even better. All too soon, we said our good-byes and went our separate ways. We would meet again on Tuesday at Cecelia’s home for a dinner and our meeting.

On Monday, Debbie and I walked to the Empire State Building and went to the 86th floor observation deck to view the city. It was a bit hazy but did not disappoint. The views were incredible! After that, we walked to Grand Central Station. That, too, did not disappoint. It was even more grand than what I saw in the movies that were filmed there. Again, more about this in a later blog.

20180417_160200.jpgOn Tuesday afternoon, we met Debra at The Riverside20180417_161610 Church. It is one of the most impressive and detailed cathedrals I’ve ever seen, and its history is just as impressive. It was patterned after the cathedral at Chartres in France. But I must admit I looked forward to seeing Debra’s office because that is where the Matthew 5:4 meetings are held every other Tuesday. I got to see the table where everyone sits, and I got20180417_161644 to see the ‘big screen’ at the other end of the table where I ‘sit.’ Debra is an amazing lady, and I am thankful that she hosts this group. She is thoughtful, kind, and compassionate, and I don’t think there could be a better person to help guide those who have lost a spouse than she. I am grateful and honored to be part of this ministry. I had Debbie take a photo of me standing in front of 20180417_161905the TV to show everyone that I was “out of the box” for once.

After we finished, Debra drove us to Cecelia’s for dinner and our meeting. Cecelia has a wonderful view of the Hudson River and the George Washington Bridge from her apartment. New Jersey is just across the river from her home. I had a chance to meet her daughter and her grandson and talk with them. Cecelia showed me some of her husband’s photographs and photographic equipment, and we had a chance to talk a bit more. She is a warm and beautiful lady, and I’m honored to have met her. We had a wonderful dinner that included a birthday cake for me, and I got a chance to talk with Sammie, John, Charlene, Debra, Yvonne D (yes, there are two Yvonnes!), and her daughter, Missy. I also talked with Jerry briefly, but not long enough. He’s a good man and I’m so happy that he and Yvonne have found each other.

There are many stories here, but they are all linked by a single event: the loss of a spouse. All of us began with crushed hearts and felt as though we carried the burden of grief for the world when our spouses passed away. We did…our worlds, as we knew them, had ended. Both Yvonne and I had a head start because our spouses passed away in 2009 and 2010. With the help of our respective bereavement groups and our writing, we were gradually able to accept our grief, survive through the unending cycle of our pain and longing until, one day, we realized it wasn’t as intense as it once was. One day, we smiled at a remembrance instead of bursting into tears of pain, longing, and regret. One day, it all got just a little better and we became a little stronger, and we realized it. One day we ventured out and felt as though we no longer wore the “Big W” (Widow, Widower) because we realized others just saw us as ‘regular’ people. Yes, we still had our bad days, but they became fewer until one day, we began to give thanks for every day we awoke, even the occasional bad day. Did we do this in the same time frame? Probably not. Grief is an individual thing, so personal it depends only on the singular person who is grieving. There is no time limit as to how long one grieves. There is also no right or wrong way to grieve because it is simply grief.

Grief Spiral with commentsGrief has been broken down into various cycles of emotions so it can be explained, as in “The Grief Spiral” diagram here. It is true that all of these feelings occur, and the diagram presents an oversimplified outline of the process. However, the grief process is never so orderly as any diagram, as Ginny Tesik, MA explains. It’s more like a messy scribble that covers an entire page. Any one, any combination, or all of those emotions can happen at any given moment, including such inopportune times and in no particular order throughout the grieving period, even to that day one awakens and realizes that most of those emotions have eased. One emotion has been omitted, I believe, and that emotion is sadness. To me, its connotation is different than despair, depression and resignation. Though it probably contains some resignation, to me it’s closer to a remembrance of what no longer is, and never will be again. If dwelled upon, it certainly can bring depression and even anger again. But for me, it didn’t. I didn’t let it. I let the memories of better times in, and that helped me realize I wanted to be happy again as my own person. None of this is easy. It took me nine months to reach that point. For some, it takes longer. Sometimes it takes a year or two…or more. For a few it will never happen, but I believe that becomes a choice as time passes.

I believe that every person in Matthew 5:4 that I met and talked with has made more progress than they realize. I believe that they are all stronger than they realize, and they are happier than they’ve been in a long time. Do they still have days where they feel lonely and sad? Yes, they probably do. Do they have more days where they feel they are whole people? Yes, I’m sure they do. Do they feel they’re stronger, that they are beginning to live their own lives now? Yes, I believe they do. I also believe that they have more of a relationship with God now than they may have had before, though they all have believed in Him for a long time. Will they find someone new to love? Some may, some may choose not to. That’s an individual thing, but it’s something that has happened to Yvonne and me. We have found new love, she with Jerry, me with Debbie, and we are delighted in the other’s happiness! She is, after all, my sister at heart, my dear friend, and I do love her. For that matter, I do feel that way about everyone in the group, as does Yvonne. They have become family to me, to us, and we love them all dearly and pray for their health, well-being and happiness.

We were all brought together because of great personal losses. Doors close, new doors open; a former way of life ends but is never forgotten, new and different lives begin with new and different friendships and new hopes for happiness. I have been blessed to have them all in my life. I hope they feel the same way.

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Post Script: Yes Bob, we all feel the same way too, especially me.
Yvonne Broady
You can read more of Bob’s work and follow him at: https://firstsnowbook.wordpress.com/

Change is the Next Big Thing

 

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Change is what helps us to grow.The good, the bad, the ordinary…all of it. I think of countless folks who never change and never grow and defeat the whole point of their existence. Life is not for naught and it is meant to be purpose driven…that is what I believe. Good things happen and bad things happen and how we choose to deal with every trauma, or triumph is what will teach, empower and inform our experience here on earth, so that we can understand why we’re here and not get stuck in the bad stuff .Once we have overcome a challenge we are then able to move forward toward what I refer to as the next big thing. Discovering new ways of thinking, being open to other ideas and approaches to living, not being afraid to be vulnerable, letting go of the past and embracing life, is what we all should do in order to create a life that’s full of meaning, purposeful, peaceful, enlightening and full of joy.

For many years, nearly 20, I suffered with fibroid tumors. They were uncomfortable and caused me intermittent pain. I tried all sorts of treatments to “cure them” including herbal remedies, exercises, yoga, and even prayer. I managed to keep everything in check almost 20 years, thus avoiding the surgeon’s knife.

In 1996, my husband Chuck and I decided to separate; we were having “irreconcilable differences”. The latest Blackish episode where Bow expresses how she and Dre are very different, aptly portrays how Chuck and I were feeling about each other at that time in our marriage, so separate we did. Although initially it was a trial separation, after a few months I began to actually think that Chuck and I weren’t going to be able to reconcile and I began to get used to the idea of rebuilding my life without him.

About eight months after Chuck and I had split, I began to suffer from excessive bleeding and pain due to the fibroids, I lost weight, my periods were extended and finally my gynecologist, the wonderful, late Dr. Meredith Sirmans, informed me that I would have to have surgery. When I called Chuck to tell him, more of an FYI, he listened and then a few hours later he called me back and said that he wanted to come home to take care of me. It was a moment in time that changed everything for us. He came bearing gifts, a trip to Paris (which had to be postponed due to the imminence of my surgery). But most importantly he promised to work on our relationship and I promised him back. He was the best caregiver in the whole wide world. He cooked dinner, made me soups, he kept me company and made sure I was at peace. He told me funny stories and he reminded me of the bond that we had created and we were about to re-create again in new and different ways. On some days my father would come to bring me fried liver with onions because Chuck and he both felt that it would help to build up my blood. My recovery was extended and a little tough but the two most important men in my life loved and supported me back to health. I truly miss them both.

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When the operation was delayed, because I had to be transfused, Chuck was in the hospital with a dozen doughnuts and ate practically all of them,(my son and I still joke about that). He did not want to show his fear to me but I felt his love and caring more than ever then.After that period of separation, coming back together and renewal, I knew that I was meant to become ill just at that time and not before.It was the right time for my precarious health situation became the catalyst for change in my marriage. This was a change for the better that would spark  a renewed belief in our marriage bond as we began the next 10 year journey more connected and unwittingly preparing for the biggest challenge in our two lives. This, of course would begin in December 2007.

When Chuck passed away, my body seemed to fall apart. I began to have small aches and pains which increased and I felt as though I was no longer in control of my life. Three years later I would have to have major surgery on my knee. Without my husband you can only imagine the fear and loneliness I felt at the prospect of facing another major surgery, only this time alone. Thankfully I had close male friends who intuited how I must have been feeling and offered support and advice. At this point I’d been toying around with the idea of writing a book about my widow experience in order to assist other widows and I was still grieving sorely.

After the successful surgery and as I recovered from it, I found that I was entering a new phase of my grief recovery. Each step I took with my new knee represented a step toward the light and my new beginning. Everything in my life had changed and I was changing with it.
While my husband was in hospice care at home the end of 2008, a new shopping venue had been developing in my neighborhood. I wondered if Chuck would live to see. He did not. But as new stores became a part of the changing landscape I had mixed feelings of missing the old although I was curious about the new.

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As my leg healed and when I was able to get around more, I would limp to the new home decor store and stroll around it admiring the various items as well as shopping for some new additions for my own home, which was slowly being transformed. Soon the Home Goods store on my newly renovated avenue had somehow contributed to my well-being and renewal of hope. I was beginning to understand what retail therapy was all about.

There are catalysts for change and hope in all our lives. If we look back on our lives we will see how life’s occurrences propel or connect us to the next change coming around the bend. We have a choice as to whether to accept the events that can transform our way of being thinking and living or to remain inert, unable to get past the past.

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I have had many more  signs in my time here on earth that my life was about to take a turn. Simultaneous occurrences of events became metaphors for a specific theme that characterized my life at a certain point in time. Everything that has occurred in my life, particularly my life with Chuck and even his death, have helped me to heal or given me new opportunities to grow. These are temporal episodes which, depending on how we handle them, offer opportunities for change.We must not linger long in the past as we may end up stuck there. Sometimes the change doesn’t feel good, and can be very devastating, but I can assure you that whatever situations we encounter in life (and we all will) they are always for one’s higher purpose, growth and better good.

I can feel a change coming now leading me forward to a new thing on the horizon. After having dealt with trials and tribulations, joy and victory, I’ve chosen to let whatever comes my way lead me to the next big thing. I trust that wherever I land is where I’m suppose to be, and it will be up to me as to how I choose to live with it.

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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

 

 

Our Memories Are Ours Alone

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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St. Gabriel’s Church

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

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

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

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

My mother at 90 with her four children

 

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

Love Notes: What Remains

In this month of love and romance I share these thoughts with you:

I met my future husband to be in the summer of 1987. Several people have wanted to take the credit for bringing us together, but it was my friend Kathy who initially introduced us at a fundraiser I hosted annually to benefit the Central Park Conservancy here in New York City, called the Whites Picnic. Later that summer, on Labor Day weekend, Chuck and I would meet by chance again at a friend’s barbecue in Brooklyn. He came over and reintroduced himself to me and felt my hair, mentioning how soft it was. Chuck was  marketing a line of women’s hair care products for a very high profile client,so touching my hair was appropriate and sent a tingle up my spine.

We had our first date, rather unexpectedly. I was the host and producer of a lifestyle show on cable television and was searching for single men for a show I was doing on males giving their views on the state of  male/female relationships. As it so happened, one guy could not make it but suggested Chuck as a replacement for him. It ended up that Chuck couldn’t come either, but he appreciated the invitation. Soon after Chuck would call me and ask me out on our first date. It was a freezing evening, that had included a day where I had to attend the funeral of a friend. Death, loss, and new beginnings were all unwittingly wrapped up in that day. The movie we saw: Fatal Attraction. Anyway, we were soon a couple beginning to enjoy our life together.

The first time Chuck had me over to his apartment for dinner it was the first time I would be seeing where he lived. Expecting a tricked out,modern bachelor pad, I was surprised and horrified to see a very humble studio with mismatch furnishings, hand-me-downs from relatives. But he had lit candles, that were actually melted down, and he’d prepared a superb gourmet meal for me with his little brown hands. That act of giving to me by putting in the effort to make me a dinner from scratch, was a moment in time that I treasured always as I came to love that one room studio on the Upper West Side of Manhattan.

Eventually, my son and Chuck’s two nephews, who would one day be cousins, would, on occasion,pile into his apartment and his sister, with whom I had become fast friends, and I would leave the boys there and go on our merry way. Shopping and eating on the then trendy Columbus Avenue and beyond was what us carefree single moms pursued.Chuck and the boys would have adventures of their own exploring Central Park, which Chuck knew with his eyes closed, or they’d take in a movie or some such fun. Whatever they did it was sure to include lots of sweets and food and fun, along with lectures on how to be a good, solid man. Those were the halcyon days, great memories that I never want to be erased.

Chuck and I loved the movies and went to many, Glory and Breakfast at Tiffany’s among our faves. We would cry at the sad parts and laugh at our favorite TV shows like Curb Your Enthusiasm and Dream On.

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One of my favorite movies is Heartburn with Meryl Streep and Jack Nicholson. Well, there is a part in the movie where the character Rachel, decides to whip up a meal of Spaghetti Carbonara. I was so inspired by that part in the movie that I decided to make Carbonara for Chuck.I went to a neighborhood market, Fairway, which was at that time smaller and there was only one. I happened to run into the manager and asked him where I could find pancetta which is an Italian smoked bacon. I told him that I was making Spaghetti Carbonara. He proceeded to take me to the back of the store and introduced me to the butcher, and he tells the man to “give her whatever she needs“. He then got on the phone and called someone who gave me a recipe for Carbonara. I don’t know what made him do that, but I like to think he was just happy to hear that someone was cooking in the name of love.

That meal must have been blessed by the gods because when I served it to Chuck, he was so impressed that he would think of me as this really great cook. What he didn’t know was that without that recipe, it could’ve really turned into runny eggs with bacon minus the spaghetti.

Recently, I came across this recipe as I looked through old mementos. I thought back on that time and how, our love, for movies, food and my love for Chuck inspired me to make a meal that was special, just for him. His caring love for me had inspired him to do the same. As the characters in the movie were at some point professing their disdain for marriage and vowing never to do so, in the next scene there they were getting hitched in a prewar apartment in the Apthorp located in this city that I love.

I, the dreamy romantic, would like to think that my Carbonara, made with my little brown hands, sprinkled with all the love I had for Chuck, is what touched his heart and drew us ever closer together. Eventually, we too would walk down the aisle of New York’s St. Paul’s Chapel, beginning our new life, till death do us part.

In the years since my husband has been gone, ten to be exact, my life has changed drastically. Thoughts of Chuck come into my mind now and then but not, as in the beginning, every single moment of every single day. I’m incredibly grateful for having been able to spend a large portion of my life with him. I learned many things, I expanded my thinking, I became purpose driven and I recognized my own strengths, as well as my very strong will. I found my voice and speak up for myself instead of holding it in as I was prone to do.I learned from Chuck not to “suffer fools gladly” particularly if I realize that they mean me more harm than good. He changed my life and took me to another level. But then,that is what relationships should do: help each other to grow instead of stranding each other on a barren cold island in the middle of a desert. I am different now and have discovered that I will need someone different for this part of my life’s journey. Grief, life after death, entering my new normal, changed me, for the better, I think. God didn’t abandon me after all, as he sent me friends along the way to make me laugh, wipe my tears and gently push me toward that light at the end of the tunnel. In the end, I did make it through the loss of my husband, which let me know that if I could, anyone who wants to can.

My time spent with Chuck was magical, real, full of life’s travails and moments of pure joy. It was all meant to be and then like magic it was gone. But like the memories and random love notes that conjure thoughts of days long gone, the love remains still, spiraling, like spaghetti, up to heaven.

Happy Valentine’s Day

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