When the Light Goes Out Look Within

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Want to know how you can discover your light within ? Brave in a New World: A Guide to Grieving the Loss of a Spouse available on Amazon.com : http://tinyurl.com/jnjs5fu.

Do It Anyway and Show Up for Yourself

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1.Getting past the pain of loss

2.Allowing the distractions to help you to heal

3 Creating new relationships.

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

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

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

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

Do No Harm

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Grief and Loss: On Losing Friends

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Embracing the Pain of Loss

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No one wants to have his or her heart broken. When you lose a spouse the pain can be excruciating, unpredictable and relentless. This harsh deep hurt can also be accompanied by anxiety and fear.

People do not want to feel the pain that accompanies loss after losing someone they love. It’s understandable that there are many who wish to shield themselves from it. Why? Because it hurts. Sometimes the pain is so excruciating and debilitating that it can even manifest itself as actual body aches.

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But what if I were to suggest that maybe it’s better to lean into the pain rather than shy away from it?

Although we may not always be able to embrace the pain of loss, confronting it is better than ignoring it. When you push it away,it never really goes anywhere. Then one day when least expected those old painful feelings that one mistakenly thought were gone,will make themselves known and demand to be dealt with.

When I began to grieve, I did not know what to expect. Once I was in the throes of my grief journey I knew that it was an experience like no other.
At some point I found myself feeling as if I was whirling in a tunnel with no way out. The grief and sorrow became my shadow following me wherever I went. I soon began to feel that this was the beginning of my new normal forever and I just made up my mind to relinquish control and surrender to it.
But surprising and unexpected events happened along the way as I lived my “new normal”. In my case, my healing was connected to my interactions with others: friends,family and strangers.

As I created new routines for myself, I began to encounter people who I might never have had a chance to meet under other circumstances. Sometimes they’d share an observation, or insight or a personal memory that would give me a new perspective on my own life. Because I was able to find the strength, even as I suffered, to live life simultaneously with grieving, eventually I would see an opening in the grief tunnel which encouraged me to keep pushing forward. I soon began to understand that I could get through the muck and mire as long as I persisted.

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Persist, embrace,mourn, persist, embrace,mourn…..this is the path that I followed as I grieved.

We are born into a world where we are not immune to life’s adversities and misfortunes or death. Some people endure much more than their share, but we must trust that there will be a light that will guide us along the way. When we lose a spouse or someone else we’ve loved, although the initial pain can be unbearable, one’s acquiescence, will actually be the very thing that heals.

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We must face the pain of grief

By facing our grief and sorrow, we will find that the road to healing will be made straight in less time than we can imagine.

Remember, your spouse is sad that they had to leave, but their life is done and they want you to go on and live the rest of your’s the way that you were meant to. So don’t be afraid to explore new possibilities, don’t be afraid to take chances as you rebuild a new life on your own.
Although we think we can delay suffering, there is no avoiding it.The pain will always remain and at some point will need to be faced.In the end, leaning into the pain is when true healing takes place.

 

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Signs of Love

 

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I would have to say that I would characterize my late husband Chuck as a “holiday guy.” He rose to each occasion (birthdays, Christmas, Mother’s Day, Valentine’s Day etc. ) showering me with gifts symbolic of his love for me. Fancy, cute, funny, always a mix of things to delight my eyes and my heart. In the beginning I loved receiving the fancy baubles, bangles, and beads, many from that Fifth Ave. blue box store, but what I cherished most were the  little stuffed animals, some of which depicted him and me as little bears, and one boy bear with a cute bow tie, similar to the ones Chuck took to wearing on occasion.

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After Chuck passed away I was faced with living each new approaching holiday alone. The Firsts: first Christmas, first birthdays, first anniversaries, and all the other special occasions that we normally celebrated together, loomed in the near distance. Anticipating the various occasions created anxiety within me as I tried to figure out how to brace myself for the rush of emotions I was surely expecting to feel.

I managed to get through the First New Year’s  Eve, with help from friends, as we celebrated New Year’s Eve together (me anticipating an anxiety attack). However, the transition went smoothly and I looked forward to 2010 with hopes of lessening the heavy burden of  my day to day sorrow.

The First Valentine’s Day was a mere few weeks after my husband’s actual death. It seemed to approach slowly and quickly, as time moves differently after loss. I no longer experienced each day singularly, but more as a stream of time: night/day… day/night.

On February 14th, 2009, the very first Valentine’s Day since Chuck’s recent death, I was searching in my collection of cards to finish writing thank you’s to those who had sent condolences. As I rummaged through the various cards I came across a beautiful Valentine’s Day card, never sent, to me from Chuck.

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I was so startled and touched, that I wept uncontrollably and fell back into my husband’s leather recliner, which had become a comfortable resting place for me. As I sat reading the words on the card paying special attention to his signature, I absentmindedly slipped my hands into the side of the chair.I felt something and pulled out a Scrabble tile with a C on it. I wondered if these were  signs of love that were being sent to me so soon after his death. Had he put the card in that place for me to find? Had he deliberately hidden the Scrabble tile in the side of his chair hoping I would find it on a day when I needed to be comforted more than ever?

What I’ve learned about love…it’s abiding and it’s all around

When we lose a spouse we cannot really know where they’ve gone to next. Are they just gone? Will they come back? Have they gone to another plane? Will we see them again? Can they hear our cries of sorrow? Do they cry with us? However, I do believe that we can receive signs from those who have passed away. We have to believe that our love for them is the fuel that empowers their spirit to reach out and let us know that they’re okay, you’re going to be okay, and it’s okay for one to move on with one’s unfinished life in this place.

Whether via a dream, soft touch, a note scribbled in our loved one’s handwriting or a former possession of our lost love, found when we least expect it, I believe that these are all signs from those we have lost. One just has to be open, and know that anything is possible when someone passes away. We must also pay attention to the subtle and sometimes not-so-subtle signs of assurance that tell us that our loved ones are keeping watch and still sending love our way.

My husband told a friend that he knew I was going to have a hard time after he had died. Could it be that as Chuck straddled the fence between life and death that he could have planted these items hoping that I would discover them when I needed some tangible assurance of hope….of faith? Or was this just magic, unexplained occurrences, that are a part of the world we live in. I can never really know, but I choose to believe that they were messages from him, meant to encourage, support  and keep me going during the long, long days of my grief. To have found them on Valentine’s Day, that First Valentine’s Day, was beyond mere coincidence, timed by the Universe, so that I would come to  know that even after my husband’s death, he would still send signs of hope, signs of love.

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              Happy Valentine’s Day

 

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

 

 

 

Let Me Tell You How It Is

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During the early days of my loss, I was hit in the face with such excruciating pain, I wanted to jump out of my skin.Those around me, for the most part, took their cues from me as to how to be there for me.I was starring in a new role and winging it as I went along.

People offer condolences in many different ways. I experienced all the ways.There were offers to go to lunch, flowers (lots of beautiful arrangements)cards, food and just love. A few people cried with me and didn’t look down on my tears. Even now, when I gather with a few, and as we recall that time, the tears will come.We carry these memories within us even after many years have passed.Often something might ignite a memory and make us feel wistful, melancholy, and sad. These natural feelings are embedded within us as an indelible reminder of persons we’ve loved and lost, and they can be awakened without warning every now and then.

Many folks cannot possibly understand why after the initial shock of loss, it’s so difficult to recover and go back to normal. As I have said many times we will never be “normal” again, and we are on the road to our “new normal” which will occur by-and-by.

I want to tell you what I remember about adjusting to never being able to see my husband again. The first night was very tough. My son and brother rearranged my bed so I could just slip into it.They removed the evidence of what had occurred that morning when my husband passed away in our bedroom.

When I got into bed for the first time, without my husband beside me, the bed felt very empty. I stuffed the other side with pillows so I wouldn’t feel his absence and would be able to get some rest. It worked and I would continue to stuff his side with pillows for many years to come.

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In the morning when I woke up and went to the kitchen to make my coffee I opened the cupboard and saw my husband’s mugs that he used to make for his morning tea. Seeing those cups tore me apart and I stood there weeping,trying to figure out how I would ever get through the days ahead.

Empty slippers, robes, brushes,a toothbrush lying beside mine, still, never to be used by Chuck again. His clothes, and books and the things he used in life enveloped me in sorrow as I longed to see him one last time. When I would go into the bathroom and look at the set of two towels,his embroidered with his initials,I would stand there in a state of shock and cry until my eyes were blurry.

At night when I would go to sleep, bed stuffed with pillows, I would cover my head with my fluffy down comforter drifting off to sleep only to awaken to the same heartache and suffering the next day. Groundhog Day was my new normal.

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In the ensuing weeks if some news was shared, I immediately would want to tell Chuck, but then realized he wasn’t here. When friends, Jane and George, came to visit me after he had passed away, I was so happy to see them and went to tell Chuck when I remembered that he was dead.Dead, dead, dead, getting used to the D word was the worst for me, as I blundered my way through this new landscape that I never imagined becoming a part of. The word held so much finality within it, that I rarely used it and preferred to say that my husband had passed away…or left the planet.

I would sit in my husband’s black leather armchair, and try to “feel” him. Initially when I would do this, I would stick my hand down the side of the chair and find little trinkets,or a note. I began to imagine he’d slipped these little “gifts” there for  me to find and hoping I’d find comfort in them after he was gone. Sometimes I would even wander through my home looking for signs of his return, but soon I began to feel increasingly mad, unstable, and a bit crazy as I tried to manage my day to day grief and maintain my sanity. I could go on and on about losing my best friend of 22 years who had captured my heart and then disappeared. I’m sure a few friends thought I had abandoned them,but they never knew that I was no longer who I once was and I was struggling daily not to fall off a cliff.

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I recount the details of this period in my grieving journey, so that those who think that mourning is a brief walk in the park will understand the layers of emotions one endures after losing a spouse.

There will be many people who will compare their life experiences to your loss. I suppose they do this to make you feel better and to encourage you to get on with your life. They want you to see how lucky you are as compared to whatever experience they’ve been through. I’m here to tell you that comparing different experiences to someone who is in the midst of grieving is one of the worst offerings of sympathy that one can give. I have yet to meet one person who has lost a spouse who was happy to hear how someone else’s experience should make them feel “lucky” that they’d only lost their spouse”. It’s as if they’re telling you to get over it because things could be far worse.

No one can ever know what someone goes through after they’ve lost a spouse unless they’ve had that experience…..period. Try to understand that when someone dies, a part of the person dies with them, and that their life as they knew it has been turned upside down, and that they are feeling like they are losing their mind. This explanation may help those who want to share words of comfort and not statements that diminish the grieving person’s sorrow or ignores what they’re going through. The more one truly knows how to be there for those who have lost a spouse or anyone, hopefully the more patient one will become with them.

I was pretty lucky when it came to having people around me who could ride the waves with me. Those who could not – I let go. Remembering that those who grieve aren’t being self indulgent, they’re not just whining, they are heart brokenhearted and in unimaginable pain. They’re trying to make their way in the wilderness on a dark and prickly path.They need people to listen to them unceasingly, be a shoulder to cry on, give the occasional hug, and never admonish or compare (to divorces, others’ losses, separations, less than stellar childhoods). Never, never make those who grieve feel as though they are doing something wrong.And for those who are on a grieving journey,do not feel obligated to listen to folks who hurt with words. Tell them to STOP and then say,“Let me tell you how it is………”

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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

 

Life’s Road Always Leads One Home

When I was a young girl growing up in Brooklyn, New York, my father used to take me to Prospect Park all the time. Each time we’d go, I would sit under the same big oak tree and wonder what my life as a grown-up would be like. My parents were very socially conscious and political activists. They were educated, cultured and interesting people. They exposed me to all things cultural: art, music, and literature. My father bought me a deck of Authors Cards and I had to memorize each author’s name and recite some of their works eg. Robert Louis Stevenson’s poems: Foreign Lands, My Ship and I, My Shadow, all from A Child’s Garden of Verses. These assignments were  part of my “homeschooling” and these lessons have stayed with me and probably added to my already active imagination, as I imagined my life in the future.

Early on I fancied myself a writer. I would sit at my desk, that my father had built, and type on my little typewriter. I was never really typing anything of note, but I felt like a “girl of letters”.As I tapped away at the keyboard I wrote stories about people, places and things. I wrote poems and some were published in what was known as the School Bank News, which was a little local school newspaper published by our neighborhood bank. These were short poems about spring, the weather, the seasons, rainy and sunny days. I would watch programs on our one TV about female writers and imagined myself living in Manhattan writing, meeting a wonderful man, getting married and living happily ever after. Well you know, I daydreamed and lived in my little head a lot.Prospect Pk (1)

As I got older, I still had a very vivid and keen imagination, however, I began writing short stories in my English classes. This all against the backdrop of a burgeoning civil rights movement, with events daily unfolding on our one TV. The Montgomery bus boycott, the emergence of Martin Luther King, Rosa Parks, the KKK, Birmingham bombings, beatings of civil rights workers, water hoses. All of these events would soon affect my writing. What I wrote began to change from light musings of my future life to thoughts about the changing times. Soon the authors I would be reading included Richard Wright, Ralph Ellison, Chinua Achebe, James Baldwin, Dorothy West and Mary McCarthy a mixture of black and female authors, that helped to shape my thoughts about life and the way I would come to view the world. We would suffer many losses in the 60’s, so many…. I didn’t really understand “what was goin’ on…..”. I was young and at the beginning of everything.

As the 70’s approached, I began to lose my uncles, my father’s brothers, right into the 80’s and 90’s. These were all sad events in my life. I lost my grandmother in the early 80’s and my godfather, Dr. Eugene Massy, then also, both while my parents were serving in the Peace Corps. These last two losses I considered to be the greatest at that time as they were the two people I was closest to, especially my Nana, who had been in my life since “my beginning. I would mourn her quietly for many years.

When my father passed away in 2005, my life stood still. I had been daddy’s little girl and he was the one who inspired me to write and write and write. His mother, my grandmother, had been a schoolteacher and a published author in her little town of Lowmoor, Virginia. My favorite aunts, Anice and Ailleen, as well as my father often mentioned how I reminded them of her. After his death, a light in me went out. I would mourn him sorely and quietly up until the day that my husband became ill in December 2007. I’d built up a lot of hurts inside keeping everything in, but the pain from the loss of my dad and others became a shadow grief that never really went away.

So it seems fitting that after the death of my husband Chuck, I would eventually put pen to paper and express my feelings of enduring loss, sorrow and the rebuilding of my life. Only this time, after having lived a full and rich life, I could now share my experiences, advice and wisdom with others.Image result for writing pen on book images

When I look at my life’s trajectory and the road that I’ve traveled, full of losses, pain, and silent grieving, I can see how I’ve arrived at this place. Now that I’ve felt the pain and endured the suffering, I feel free.

This is the road that has led me home.

 

To find out how you can survive grief after the loss of a spouse read Brave in a New World: A Guide to Grieving the Loss of a Spouse available on Amazon.com just copy and paste this link to purchase your copy:   http://tinyurl.com/qghzw3e  

Uncluttering and Discovering Yourself

My late husband Chuck was a real pack rat. He kept so many mementos from his early days in high school, college and business. He had old report cards, and letters, playbills and tons of old record albums. He even had his college beanie emblazoned with the H which stood for his undergrad alma mater, Howard University. These items along with his faded Howard University athletic tank were  all tucked away in a duffel bag in a closet.

We were city apartment dwellers with no basement to hide and store memorabilia and personal keepsakes. Chuck did pull out the shirt often and wear it around the house. My husband loved to read and thus had a huge collection of books. He liked to reread his favorites usually about History, American History, wars and a good mystery now and then. He read all the local papers daily including the Financial Times and The Wall Street Journal.

I  am a collector of things also: old postcards, letters, jewelry, letters from long gone relatives and beaus and long-ago pen pals, along with all the correspondence from my parents which were sent to me when they served in the Peace Corps in the 80s.

I have old photos and lovely Limoges boxes, a collection of beautiful timepieces which I try to pull out and wear with regularity. I have many of the books my son read when he was a little boy, and some of his baby clothes neatly packed away for the future grandson (or granddaughter). I used to want to hang onto some classic styles hoping that they would make a comeback. A white button-down shirt, black ankle pants, Mary Jane shoes. Although I was right on a few occasions most of the time when the style did make a comeback, it would reemerge tweaked in a way that suited the prevailing fashion trends.

I used to plead with my husband to throw out all the papers that he had accumulated over the years. He promised that he would, but he never really did; they were like a security blanket for him. The more the piles rose the more secure in his fortress he felt. My husband’s insistence on holding onto everything made me very sensitive about my own predilection for collecting “things”. So I put myself in check and would periodically ditch those items that no longer held meaning for me.

He was Inspired to Purge

After Chuck died, I was faced with many decisions, one of the most important being what to keep and what to throw away. The year Chuck was ill was the year he finally “got it”, unfortunately it was a lot too late. During that period, while I was at work, Chuck sorted through all of his papers and documents and photographs and began to get rid of an accumulation of many years of “stuff”. The items that he treasured he put into an album. These included awards, letters of commendation, and all sorts of treasures that were important to him. He began creating a visual legacy for he knew that his time was limited.

It would be a long while before I could pore over his carefully curated collection. These were the items that he felt would tell “his story” and leave his mark in this place.

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 A Very Sacred Task

Eventually, I edited his belongings and kept only those things that had meaning to me. This very sacred task got me thinking about my own assortment of keepsakes which included correspondences, journals, notes, postcards, and pictures. I realized that I was holding onto items from my past that no longer held the same meaning that they once did. There was a lifetime of old photos of grammar school chums, names I could no longer recall. Books, with tattered covers falling off, vestiges from my undergraduate psychology class, my graduate school philosophy and education classes too. They filled up my library and made it look very impressive, but I never opened them as they no longer held meaning for me. I found drawings that I had created years before in art classes that I’d taken at the Brooklyn Museum and the Art Students League. These were proof that I had once dabbled in pen and ink, and watercolor, and that I loved drawing portraits of anyone who would sit for me (usually a reluctant brother or my sister). As I purged, I came to the realization that these were items that were part of a life that I no longer had. I no longer needed to prove anything to anyone about my intellect or artistic talent. After all, I was me  ,just as I am, after all was said and done. I also decided that I did not want to leave my only son with tons of items to sort through that would hold little meaning for him once I had finally left this place.

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 A Final Act of Love

As I sorted through all of my things I began to feel a bit freer. It was like going to a resort or hotel and breathing a  sigh of relief at being away from the hustle and bustle of city life, having arrived only with the bare necessities in my suitcase. Thus, in a big way, my husband inspired me to do my own housecleaning. There was enough to deal with after he died, so the fact that he considered me in his final days and finally got rid of the clutter was what I considered an extreme and selfless act of love. I didn’t have to wonder what this meant to him, who these people were in a pic, why a document was important. It spared me the sorrow, I surely would have felt, as I touched and smelled more items that were a part of my husband’s life here.The memories that my purging, decluttering, sorting and ditching conjured up were snapshots of a former life and times long gone. And even though I no longer have the tangible items which I never looked at anyway, I have the memories permanently etched in my mind that I can access whenever I like. I decided that I no longer needed those material things to help me relive my past, particularly now that I was embracing a new beginning.

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The Past Can Block One’s Future

As time goes on we find that we have accumulated so many things that we don’t ever use and never look at. They become a security blanket of sorts, but they can also become the “thing” that can prevent us from moving forward. Of course many people have collections of items that they display, that they change seasonally, that they look at frequently. Then there are those items that you may want to save for future generations to peruse as they research who their ancestors were. But oftentimes there’s just an accumulation of memories from our past that can prevent us from being in the now. I’m not saying that we shouldn’t hold on to timeworn treasures that tell “our stories” but we have to discern, at some point, whether our story is going to mean anything to those who come after us….those who have to go through our stuff deciding what should stay and what should go. Our friends and family will not know why we held onto a collection of coins, or who certain people are in faded photos, now faded and torn, or why a special handkerchief  is neatly folded inside a Ziploc baggie.

 Locking The Memories in My Heart

I decided to lock these memories in my heart and save my only child from having to deal with a puzzle after I’m gone.

There’s a lot to be said for living with less, not more. One’s  history is an accumulation of a life well lived (or not), but experiences all. Many of these events in life are meticulously recorded or collected in the form of keepsakes and memorabilia with the intention that we will one day look back on our lives with sadness, fondness and sentimental thoughts. But often these items can clutter our lives and prevent us from living or moving forward. Sometimes, unwittingly, we hold on tightly to the past which prevents us from truly living in the present.

I was able to let go of a lot of my husband’s items in stages over about a five year period. I was able to give away most of his beautiful clothing in the beginning, which I rushed to do, because I was afraid if I did not it would be hard for me to do it later the longer I held onto them. I did not want to go into the closet and look at his clothing every day, with a very lightheaded feeling of anxiety, as I put my face in his coats and shirts and weep and weep and weep. I was already weeping without having to have the constant reminder of the daunting task that awaited. But there were little items like cufflinks, and watches, and glasses, and handkerchiefs, gloves, etc. that I was able to let go of as time ensued. Time does give one a new perspective on things and gradually, I was able to hold onto a modest collection of his possessions without having to have felt overwhelmed had I taken on the task of getting rid of everything initially.

Open a Portal to New Experiences

At some point we must begin to think about the items from our past, and decide whether it’s necessary to hold onto everything. We will want to keep some things from deceased loved ones for sure, but we may find that as we gradually discard those objects that no longer hold the same meaning that they once did, we will be opening a portal to new experiences that will be just as fulfilling and maybe even more meaningful than the old.

Life is finite, and our experiences are always unfolding. Let’s make room for new ones and keep the old ones locked in our hearts.

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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

Staying Stuck or Becoming Free

 

As I design my new website and tweak add-ons and ideas, one thing I have decided to do is to expand the scope of my writing.

I’ve always been interested in how human beings interact with each other. I’m curious about why people do the things they do, say the things they say, live the way they live,  think the way they think and treat others the way they do. But more importantly, it is the way we treat ourselves, the decisions we make that impact our own lives that intrigues me most.
So, as I begin to shift gears, I will be writing about a variety of topics focusing not only on grief and  recovery but also life matters, home matters, and love matters.

 I knew that he was the one………..

When I was dating my husband Chuck, I knew almost immediately that he was the one.I knew also, that I would want to spend the rest of my life married to him. Chuck had been down that road twice, being married, and although he knew I was the one sooner than I expected, and told me so, eventually, as time marched on, I would learn that he was a bit gun shy and unsure as to whether he wanted to walk down the aisle again.

We agreed that we had a great relationship, that we got along really well and we enjoyed a lot of the same things. We loved being in each other’s company and had a lot of fun together especially on weekends after our long work weeks. Sometimes, on evenings when he taught, he’d surprise my son and I by popping over and joining us for dinner or just hanging out for a bit before heading home to his apartment on W. 71st St. in Manhattan. I love good surprises…he did not,oh but then, I do digress.

What’s the worst that can happen?

Around the two-year mark, I felt that I wasn’t sure that a marriage would happen, as complacency had set in and we didn’t seem to be moving forward,but just running in place.
I was a bit frustrated and decided to confide in a close male friend about my dilemma. Ironically enough, my dear friend was in the same predicament, dating someone who wanted to get married, and because of his own personal history, he was not sure whether or not he was ready to move forward yet either.
I remember the day that I went to meet him at his office;it was a raining cats and dogs and I was feeling as forlorn as the weather. I sat down and I shared with him what was on my mind. He said that he had met Chuck on several occasions and he really liked him a lot. My friend then asked me how I felt about him. I told him I was in love. He then advised me to “put the pressure on”. I told my friend I didn’t know how to do that very well, and he stunned me by saying that he had observed me over the years in various professional situations and felt that when I wanted something, I was able to strongly advocate for my myself quite well. So, he concluded, he felt confident that I could do the same thing in my personal relationship. I told him I was afraid to do that and his response to me was, “What’s the worst that could happen?” I responded with, “Chuck would say that he did not want to get married.” My friend then said, “And don’t you need to know that?” Adding, “You are still young, you have your whole life ahead of you and why keep the blinders on? You should know what he really wants to do. Two years is long enough and you need to know so that you can meet someone else and go on with your life.”
My friend also said that he knew it would be painful for me if it ended up that Chuck really did not want to spend the rest of his life with me, but better to endure the pain now then to find out years from now. I could end up feeling that I’d wasted my time in a dead end relationship.
I left his office that day and decided to face the fear of losing Chuck or losing time. Wishing and hoping would not make things so and in order to move from A to B, I needed to take control of my own destiny and destination.
I took my dear friend’s advice that day and I began to nudge gently. A year after that conversation with my friend, Chuck and I were walking down the aisle of St. Paul’s Chapel at Columbia University, in New York City.

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The truth will set you free…….always

On the receiving line when my friend greeted the two of us after the ceremony he said,” I should have been in this wedding because I am responsible for the two of you getting married.” Chuck looked at me and whispered, “What did he mean by that?” I quickly answered, “Beats me!”

My friend helped me to take control of my situation. He laid everything in my lap and helped me to face the possibility of dealing with the pain of loss now as opposed to the pain of loss down the road, which would have had an even greater impact on my life. Facing that fear prevented me from wasting anymore time in a stagnant relationship. What I really needed was to have what I wanted and to not waste another moment that could turn into years of anguish and frustration and long suffering.

We must take the blinders off…………..

Facing our fears is something that many people have difficulty doing. It’s the reason we have so many addicted people, depression, violence, unhappiness and regret. The fear of not wanting to face reality or keeping the blinders on prevents one from dealing with whatever it is that prevents us from moving our lives forward toward what we really want for ourselves. We become stuck, hoping and wishing, or we numb our feelings. Thus, we continue dealing with the physical desires as opposed to the desires of our soul.

Wishin’ and hopin’ and thinkin’ and prayin’

Many people remain in relationships way past the time that they should hoping that in time things will go their way. Meanwhile, precious time is creeping by as they lose themselves in a dead-end situations instead of standing up to their fears and therefore standing up for themselves. We do not want to be rejected, we do not want to feel like failures, we do not want to be alone. In actuality, however, we really have a fear of the unknown.
By remaining a the situation out of fear, we not only give away our power, but  we will prevent our lives from moving and unfolding in a way that will benefit us the most.
At some point we must get rid of the fear and speak up on our own behalf. Whatever pain we undergo by facing the truth will never equal the devastation of remaining in a place too long or of suffering in silence. First you must identify what you really want and go for it.

As I’ve matured, I am no longer afraid to ask questions and  I face situations head on. I do not want to remain in the dark hoping for the best. One must stand in one’s truth and face the fact that not every situation may go your way, no matter how long or how much you wish it so. Facing the truth of a matter will set you free. You will be able to explore other career paths, other relationship options, other friendships that await. Once you’ve faced the situations that prevent you from having the life you really want you will be transformed and no longer transfixed.

Postscript: My friend eventually married his long time girlfriend.They lived happily creating a new and wonderful life together until he passed away a few years ago. Nothing is promised and time marches on, but there’s always time to make changes and choices that will move you toward your heart’s desire and your destiny.

 

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