Recovering from Grief : It’s Up to Those Who Grieve

Yvonne Broady

The afternoon after my husband had died, I was thrust into a state of numbness. I experienced shock and disbelief. I spent the afternoon sitting in my living room in my husband’s leather recliner, while friends and family ran around taking care of whatever needed to be tended to. My brother, in Alabama, was command central and my brother-in-law, here in New York, made sure that those who needed to be alerted (funeral home, 911) were.

I dreaded the night to come and many, many nights thereafter not knowing what to expect now that my husband was gone. My son and my brother here in New York and others, broke down the hospital bed, threw out medications (some of which were mine……whoops) and made up my bedroom so that there was very little evidence of what had transpired earlier that day. My feelings were raw and I felt…

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Giving Thanks for the Journey Thus Far

I’m not posting my usual blog this week, as I prepare for a New York Thanksgiving and all that goes with that.I love this time of the year, there’s a brisk chill in the air,with a scent of th…

Source: Giving Thanks for the Journey Thus Far

Empathy or Sympathy – Being There for Others

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When someone we know suffers a loss, it can be difficult to figure out just how to be there for that person.People want to acknowledge their friend or relative’s loss but many just don’t know the right thing to do or say. I’ve been witness to the awkwardness that people exhibit when they’re trying to convey  verbal sympathies. I remember the wonderful memories that people shared with me about my husband, and I always appreciated the retelling of those stories. It made me feel that Chuck’s life had had an impact on those whom he touched throughout his life.

I have moved on since the early days of my loss, but some of the most helpful and compassionate ways that people were there for me during that awful time were by being able to listen.Many people can be sad for you, sympathetic, while those who can be empathetic, sad with you,are the ones who will be a source of healing and strength for those who grieve after loss.

However,don’t be surprised if many who have experienced loss aren’t emotionally able or willing to feel your pain. Scores of folks have not felt the pain of their own losses.,while too,others are reluctant to be reeled backwards into their pasts as they have already grappled with the pain of their losses and do not want to risk revisiting the painful memories of those times.Those who wish to “be there” for friends and loved ones who have experienced loss,aren’t always able to empathize,but are willing to offer sympathy and that’s fine.

I write about this often, I guess it’s somewhat of a sore spot with me….being there for others. Luckily ,I didn’t have to endure too many inappropriate comments, but the few I did experience were enough for me to devote a whole chapter on what and what not to say to others after loss,in my book, Brave in a New World:A Guide to Grieving the Loss of a Spouse. Some comments were so insensitive that I eventually set boundaries for myself to prevent people from saying too much.This has actually carried over into my new life. No one should be the victim of thoughtless or intrusive comments at any time, but especially at a time when one is struggling with life after death.

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Many folks can be sympathetic and that is all those who have lost loved ones really want. But then, there are the  rare individuals who can actually put themselves in your shoes. They can be there with you and feel with you.These are the ones who can truly empathize and are not afraid to be vessels for your sorrow.

I remember,early on,calling my friends,Paula and Brenda and sharing with them what I was going through. They were always able to be there with me and helped me shoulder my grief as I tried to figure out how such a catastrophic occurrence happened in my life. They never made me feel as if I was dwelling too long in my pain after loss or that I needed to move on. They always made me feel like it was fine to talk about my Chuck’s life,illness and death over and over and over again.I was trying to sort the recent inexplicable occurrences in my life out. This is true empathy, the ability to experience the feelings of another and to be there as a patient human vessel sharing and comforting for the long  haul.My brother-in-law and my sister-in-law,Cedric and Cathy,early on,were also able to empathize with me as I was able to mourn with them.I had not only lost my husband but they had lost their beloved brother.

Not everyone is built to be a human vessel. Some think they are, but they’re not.But those who mourn will soon figure out who those people are. Those who empathize will be able to listen to you tell your story and not interrupt or walk away. They will do that out of love and respect for you. Those who do not wish to hear your tale of woe over and over again, may feel you’re being self-indulgent,may be impatient,or just maybe,your story  touches on old unresolved wounds of their own that they have hidden deep within themselves.But we must forgive them and keep them at arm’s length until you’re strong enough to have them close again.

Recognize that not all those who are close to you know how to be with you during your time of loss. Seeing each person as they are will allow you to respond accordingly so that you can protect yourself and lower your expectations as you guard your heart against more hurt.Not everyone can be there for you the way that you would like them to be. With the passage of time, I conclude that this is okay. But it’s incumbent upon those who grieve to not allow yourselves to be burdened with others’ opinions or callous remarks such as, “How does it feel to be single again?” Yes someone actually asked me that question.

As you grieve, try to be aware of the comments, and actions that might zing and add hurt upon hurt,temporarily disrupting the grieving journey. Why is one’s journey interrupted? Because you begin to focus on the hurtful comments,trying to figure out why so and so said what he/she said.It’s a distraction from your work at hand.
It’s a lot to ask of those who grieve,but by setting boundaries eg.:”No, you cannot say this to me”, it’ll encourage people to think about what they are about to say and will help to assist those who grieve in determining which folks are able to feel for you from those who can truly empathize.Doing this empowers the griever and helps to protect and guide you as you move from grief to recovery.

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Everyone grieves at their own rate,time long or short is for the bereaved to discern. But we’re all the captains of our own shipwreck as we seek to salvage what remains and rebuild a better life than before.

Life’s Road Always Leads One Home

At the desk my father built for me where I drew and wrote and wrote.

When I was a little 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 civil rights 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 hometown 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  TV about female writers and imagined myself living in the “City” writing, meeting a wonderful man, getting married and living happily ever after….. well ,you know,I lived in my little head a lot.

As I got older, I still had a very vivid and keen imagination. I was now 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,lynchings, water hoses. All of these events would soon affect my writing. What I wrote began to change from soft musings of my future life to thoughts about the changing times.Soon the authors I would be reading included  Richard Wright, Ralph Ellison, James Baldwin, Dorothy West and Mary McCarthy a mixture of black and female authors, that helped to enrich and form my thoughts about life and the way I viewed 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 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 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 she was 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 “backdrop” pain 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.

When I look at the trajectory of my life and the road that I’ve traveled, full of losses, pain, and quiet 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 one can survive grief after loss read Brave in a New World: A Guide to Grieving the Loss of a Spouse available on Amazon.com and all other e-booksellers

 

 

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 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. He did pull out the shirt and wear it around the house. My husband loved to read and had a huge collection of books.He liked to reread his favorites.

I ,too, am a collector of things also; old postcards, letters, several pieces of jewelry and letters from aunts and long-ago pen pals along with letters 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 possess clothes in several sizes, as my weight has fluctuated up and down and down and up. 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.

 Chuck’s Illness Inspired Him to Purge

After Chuck died, I was faced with many decisions,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. 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 mementos which included correspondences, journals, notes, postcards, and pictures. I realized that I was holding onto items of 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 things to help me relive my past,particularly now that I was embracing a new beginning.

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The Past Can Block the Present

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, and enjoy. Then there are those items that you may want to save for future generations to have and peruse as they discover who their ancestors were. But oftentimes there’s just an accumulation of memories from our past that can subconsciously 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 keepsakes 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 withered and torn,or why a special handkerchief  is neatly folded inside a Ziploc baggie.

 Locking The Memories in My Heart

So 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 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, but our experiences are always unfolding. Let’s make room for new ones and keep the old ones locked in our hearts.Image result for woman uncluttering pic






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 most importantly,it is the way we treat ourselves,the decisions we make that impact our lives that peaks my interest most.
So, as I expand my writing genres,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 too ,that I would want to spend the rest of my life married to him.Chuck had been down that road twice,getting 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 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 rainy day and I was feeling as forlorn as the weather. I sat down and I discussed 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 yourself 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 in New York City.

      The truth will set you free……………

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 stagnation. 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 we lose ourselves in a dead-end situations instead of standing up to our fears and therefore standing up for ourselves. 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 in 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 higher good.

Riding the Waves of Grief

 

Recently I was sitting in a neighborhood nail salon getting a manicure. The front of the salon has a huge window which allows one to people watch with ease. When I get my nails done , I don’t want to move for fear of messing up my freshly painted nails,so I read or gaze out the window while I wait for my nails to dry.

As I sat watching the sunset on Columbus Avenue and as the late afternoon sun cast a burnished glow onto the street,people were hurrying past at the end of the workday, or walking leisurely,picking up children,or running errands as the weekend approached. Because it was unusually warm for March,near 70 that day, there were more people than usual strolling or rushing by. I was lost in thought when suddenly I felt a lump in my throat out of the blue.Then,prompted by nothing in particular,suddenly,I began to miss my husband. Now,it’s been a while since I’ve been overcome by  such feelings; in the initial months and years after his death, I would feel like that often. But this, this feeling really took me by surprise.There was just something about the late afternoon sun and the unusual warmth of the day that evoked a memory.

My husband and I taught in schools that were three blocks apart. In the mornings we often left for work together,walking to our jobs,his hand in mine. I would leave him at his school’s corner as I continued on.Occasionally,after work, I would walk to his school,usually on a Friday,so we could go home together.We would walk together,running errands as we made our way up Columbus Ave.During the Christmas season,generally on the last day before vacation,I would drop by his school and we’d come home together,generally lugging our work, gifts from the children or other items we wanted to keep secure until vacation was over. It always felt good, walking home with my husband Chuck, especially during the holidays, because it was generally cold and I felt especially close to him as we prepared to celebrate the season.

I read about so many people who struggle with the waves of grief and emotions that come unexpectedly as one initially grieves and also long after the acute pain has subsided. Sometimes prompted by a scent, or someone that reminds us of our lost loved one, sometimes the sight of a bird, a sound,or the whisper of the wind. When I’m in my church I will hear a particularly beautiful or poignant hymn,and for whatever reason it will conjure up wistful thoughts that appear and then go away.Often,when we finally feel we have a handle on our grief, even years later, something occurs that sparks a memory and we are overcome with feelings that we have not felt in a while.It can be a bit unnerving but,rest assured,this is all normal.

I’m seven years in, and although I have moved on from years of grieving,I still have moments where I am propelled backwards in time where some “thing” reignites a memory. Initially,when this occurred,I would feel a bit shaken, but now I’ve learned to just ride the wave, go with the flow. Eventually,for me,the  tidal waves ceased and were replaced by small waves that once shook me up, but now wash over me like a warm familiar glow.This is a byproduct of the grief experience,the unexpected prompts that set in motion a swell of old feelings, thought buried and long gone.

 

We must not be hard on ourselves.We will have these little setbacks for an indeterminable amount of time.Even as one moves toward new relationships,should one choose, there will still be sparks,memories long gone, that have become a part of the fabric of who we are now. It doesn’t mean that one is still grieving,or that we don’t love who we love now,it’s just a reminder of an important part of one’s life experience,that is now and forever etched into one’s soul.Why does this happen? Because we  are human and we have loved and experienced loss.

 Memories will come in like clouds,morphing and then disappearing.Try to imagine these memories as clouds, and instead of passing them by, grab hold, float along,let a cloud envelope you, feel the emotions and then let it float away.

Life is like that,feelings…ebbing and flowing,as is grief which is a part of the human experience.As we move through our sorrow know that we should rise and fall with the ebb and flow, and then continue on to a new horizon.

After my nails were done,I walked onto the avenue feeling grateful for having had love from Chuck and for the memories we created that still come and go.img-thing

 

Out of the Storm a Silver Lining

When my husband passed away, I found myself thrust into a place of not knowing what to expect. All my life I’d  been able to set goals and with careful planning I figured out how I could meet those goals. I am a planner, the offspring of two very organized parents. I inherited the Martha Stewart  gene  way before she was even heard of. I didn’t want to leave my life up to chance, so I perfected my organizational skills. Knowing that everything in my life with regard to my home, work or play was meticulously planned with backup plans in case things went awry, gave me a sense of security. I was the antithesis of Murphy’s Law:…. “Anything that could go wrong, wouldn’t”. I always made sure that there was little chance for failure.

Several years ago, I threw an annual whites fundraising event at the New York Conservatory Gardens.Anyone who knows the beautifully landscaped Conservatory Gardens in Central Park, knows the gorgeous and bucolic setting. Guests would dress in white, bring food to share and spend an afternoon mixing and mingling with friends, old and new. The day’s events included a guided tour of the gardens. Guests made donations that went toward the wonderful work that the Conservatory does including the perpetual upkeep of the gardens. It was always a beautiful event with folks out in full force, dressed to the nines in white. Some years there might be a special feature like a musical guest or children’s entertainment. One summer we had about fifteen chefs from the New York Culinary Institute who whipped up the most delectable summer dishes for beautiful guests in white on a beautiful summer day in August of that year.

But sometimes even “the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry”

One year the weather started out beautifully, there were over 100 attendees, and everything was going well. All of a sudden the sky darkened and the 100 or so guests found themselves in the midst of a terrible thunderstorm which seemed to last for hours and hours. Beautiful outfits were drenched in an instant. Some people left, food got ruined, items were lost. A beautiful day turned into chaos by an unexpected weather event. Some guests huddled down in the Parks Department’s maintenance area where the wonderful park custodians let us take shelter from the unexpected storm. The forecasters had not predicted this, and we were all taken by surprise. I went home and changed from my drenched outfit and by the time I was finished the sun had come out shining brighter than it had all day.

I made my way to my parents’ apartment and was greeted by a gentleman offering me a glass of champagne with a lovely strawberry in it. Other guests had made their way there too, washed and dried off, they continued to mix and mingle as if that day’s events had never been marred by an unexpected thunderstorm.

Years later, after my husband had died, I truly fell apart. I felt like I had been dropped and had shattered into tiny little pieces. It was a long while before I’d be able to put myself back together again. As I began to re-create my shattered life I found that the new life being created was different than the one I’d had with my husband Chuck. As I emerged slowly into my newly blossoming present and future, I began to feel hopeful. As time went on I found that the new world I was entering was beginning to show signs of promise.I was developing new friendships, reconnecting with old friends, and beginning to think of my life as a clean canvas awaiting the first brushstroke of color. As my world changed from shades of gray to vibrant color, I was able to see the possibilities for myself as I rebuilt my life. I had been beginning to feel that something was missing from my life, but I couldn’t quite put my finger on what it was. Then I realized that I wasn’t feeling passionate about anything. It wasn’t just the loss of my husband but it was also not having a sense of purpose and enthusiasm for life. All of that had somehow disappeared while I was in the midst of my other life, grief and recovery.

An unexpected opportunity arose for me out of the ashes

As I recovered from grieving, I was beginning to paint a new picture with me at the center surrounded by a variety of possibilities for my new life and my new beginning. Soon I would be inspired by my circumstance to write a book. I had been drawn back to a passion of mine which was writing as well as a desire to assist others. This could never have happened had it not been for the loss of my husband. I soon realized that sometimes one’s life has to be shaken up in order for a new thing to emerge.Just like the beautiful event that was marred by torrential rains, later that same day the sun came out again shining brighter than it had all day. In my case my life fell apart but soon I was able to create a new life as I allowed a dormant passion to take hold, inspired by the recent events in my life.

It would be a while before I could see and understand the direction my life would take. It would be a long ,long while before I understood the gift, yes the gift, that my husband left me with. I now understand that sometimes things must fall away in order for a new life to emerge. It’s not what I would wish for but I believe it is a part of my destiny. This is what happened to me and if we all deeply examine the darkest events of our lives, possibly we can begin to see that as we start our new beginning, life can be better than the old one. It can be richer, fuller, more adventurous, more passionate, more intimate, more wonderful than ever imagined. By allowing ourselves to fall apart completely, unabashedly, without shame, we can emerge better than before.

We must go deep to find that rainbow beyond the rainstorm, but we must first give ourselves permission to move away from grieving and on with living.It is what our loved ones would want for us, not to remain in the muck and mire, but instead to spring forth full of  possibility and hope.

 

Brave in a New World: A Guide to Grieving the Loss of a Spouse available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble and all other e-booksellers.

 

 

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 city the.We rode on  the Staten Island ferry,roamed through the Prospect Park Zoo, the museums,Fifth Avenue, Rockefeller Center, and all the major iconic New York sites. I loved going out with my dad. It was a special time between me and him. I could talk all I want, and ask a zillion questions, and he never seemed to mind, in fact he encouraged my inquisitive nature and curious mind.

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. We never got the Sunday Daily News,and believe me,this was much to my dismay as I always wanted to look at the funnies. I felt so different from everybody else 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 did not get the Daily News as they didn’t consider it a paper worth reading, my little friends looked at me as if I had five heads. My mother and father, both with very strong political views felt very strongly about the paper not being for the people, being racist, and reporting news that was not fit to print,but,oh yes, again I do digress.

One Sunday  as my father and I walked along the cobblestone streets we passed a church by the name of 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  he and my mother were near. I felt confident and safe.

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. Chuck was my encourager, my cheerleader, and gave me strength. 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 10 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 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.” I had to discover my inner light to guide my steps toward my new realm. 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 added that I was so surprised that we didn’t have to wear masks at Mass.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.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.

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 communities to find those who are also on the same path. 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,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 a while, look within, and you will feel a familiar presence no longer in the form of the spouse, or lost 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.

 

 

 

 

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 at Amazon, Barnes and Noble and all other e-booksellers.

 

How to Avoid Quickly Aging After Loss

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My husband Chuck died on January 24, 2009.Soon after the initial days following my husband’s death, after the flurry of activity, the planning of funeral arrangements, friends and family  gone, I was in a state of shock, in a catatonic state, temporarily frozen in place, not knowing or understanding what to do next.

I felt numb, vulnerable and almost unable to breathe. I was retired from my career and therefore had nothing to distract me from my pain. Each morning I woke up to a steady stream of tears and heartache.

During this time I was mindful of my health and wellness and was diligent about keeping my regular doctor’s appointments, you know, the eye doctor. the dentist, family physician. Since turning sixty, my physicians are my new best friends. It was at one of these routine doctors’ appointments that my GP informed me that there was a new criteria that was being used to monitor blood sugar levels. My A1C level had fallen within the low end range of pre-diabetic. When the doctor told me this, I was floored. There wasn’t a direct history of diabetes in my family as far as I knew at that time, but I realized that I had to work on becoming healthier.

Weeks later when I visited my ophthalmologist, he shared with me that he saw cataracts in both of my eyes. I was stunned again as I thought of cataracts as something that happened to old people, certainly not to me, as I was still young. Actually, the reality was, I was no longer young, but life and time had moved so quickly, and I’d been so involved with caring for my husband, that when I looked in the mirror I suddenly saw a woman that I hardly recognized.

As my luck would have it, during this time, my knees began to bother me, one more than the other. Early in our relationship I would run,with my husband  Chuck,around the reservoir in New York City’s Central Park and I’m sure this added to the wear and tear on my knee’s joints and ligaments. My husband had actually completed six marathons, and running was a fun thing that we did together. It would be almost 2 years after my husband’s death that I would have to have knee replacement surgery, as the pain had increased to the point where my daily dose of ibuprofen was no longer alleviating it..

Suddenly widowed , finding myself aging quickly……..what did I do next?

Many,many months after my husband’s death I would soon decide that I wanted to live and not die. I took charge of my life and changed my eating habits, hired a trainer, went to yoga. I worked on developing my mind, and spirit as well. I began to meditate daily and soon I was able to quell the anxious chatter that was cluttering my  mind and focus on getting well. As I healed my body, I was also mending my soul. After a while ,I would see results and with a new sense of well-being, I gradually was able to lift  myself up and out of the tunnel of grief. I began to see a light in the dark which slowly grew and grew.

Why should we talk about our losses?

The purpose of sharing our thoughts and experiences after we lose a husband, wife or anyone close is to help not only to assist in our own healing,but to help others who grieve to understand that they are not alone. The bereaved feel alone, nowhere to turn and because of society’s misconceptions and beliefs about those who grieve-what they do, what they aren’t expected to do, how they appear to others, and on and on-oftentimes the bereaved silently mourn rather than “appear weak” or be held to the mythical and stringent expectations of others.

Thankfully now,there are many support communities that have been created for people to have a platform to vent and feel a part of and not a part from. There are much-needed online communities and resources that didn’t exist when I lost my husband.What a blessing for those who are attempting to find their way back to a new normal. Grief stories, bereavement stories and guidance are shared in safe online communities. This can be very helpful to those who haven’t decided whether or not to seek individual counseling or to join a bereavement group.

How Do We Avoid Growing Quickly Old?

It’s important that we grieve mindfully. The tendency to stuff our grief, to just give up and hide under the covers is a true reality for many including myself. As time wore on, I decided that I wanted to survive my circumstance and begin to rebuild my life bit by bit. Here are a few ideas:

  1. Try to stay aware of new feelings of nervousness, anxiety, forgetfulness, and consult a physician, or grief counselor or both to stay on top of the subtle and not so subtle changes that are taking place within after  loss.
  2. Exercise- Get out there and start moving, walking, running, walking on the treadmill, weight training, yoga. Any and all of these and other physical activities will help to increase endorphins and speed up your metabolism, which in turn increase your ability to get through each day stronger than before. If one is depressed,these activities will help to improve one’s emotional state.
  3. Mindful Practices – praying, meditating, talking to your lost loved one, voicing your thoughts aloud, particularly if there is no one that you can confide in, is an opportunity for you to get it out. Whether you have a faith practice or not, talking out loud, oddly enough, assuages your spirit and creates an outlet for your pain.

 

Mindfulness, remaining in the present, is hard to do after loss as your mind drifts from one thought to another. It is easy to forget names, to misplace things, to forget the order of certain routines,because your mind has been overtaken by the extraordinary event that has taken place in your life. But with practice, one will find that you’re becoming less forgetful, and strengthening the ability to remain present as you find your way back to yourself. By being aware of the fragility of your situation you are able to counteract some of the side effects of loss. It doesn’t mean you’re not strong,it just means you’re human.

I would suggest that one try to be aware of feelings as you grieve. Try to include some form of exercise, meditation and other activities that will increase your ability to get through each day as you  become stronger and more secure. Reading about death, dying and grieving allows people to understand the process.Staying  active and even considering making physical changes such as weight loss, new hairstyles, and freshening up wardrobes are excellent ways of rebuilding one’s self esteem as well as one’s life.Making new friends,developing new interests,improving tech skills will help in improving your self confidence and prevent you from becoming a dinosaur in the 21st century.Making gradual lifestyle changes will improve  the way you feel about yourself and give you an opportunity  to experience a new lease on life.Eventually,you’ll feel encouraged and hopeful about the future.

Remember,our spouses would not want us to mourn them forever;they’re no longer here but they’re rooting for us to live our lives and carry on.Grieving and living mindfully will result in slowing down the aging process a bit as we become stronger and gain the determination to not give up as we continue on our life’s journey forward.

 

 

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 Brave in a New World: A Guide to Grieving the Loss of a Spouse available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble and all other e-booksellers.

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