Grief and Loss: On Losing a Friend

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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.Although we didn’t attend the same schools, we did things together whenever we had some time,in between our studies.

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,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.

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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,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.

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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 Ph.D. 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.

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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, 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.

I have no regrets about not having had the chance to reconnect with her.Knowing that her life was full in all the areas that she desired gives me a sense of satisfaction.
I wish her well where she’s landed next, and as I weep for my friend, gone in the prime of her life, I know that she is free of pain and soaring in that infinite place of calm and serenity that we all seek, even here on earth.

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Good bye my friend.I will see you again by-and-by.

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 and 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,but what I cherished most were the  little stuffed animals some of which depicted him and I 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 ensuing 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 ahead with hopes of lessening my heavy burden of 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,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 the 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 the 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 life in this place.

Whether via a dream,soft touch, a note scribbled in our loved one’s handwriting or a 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 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 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? 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 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 love.

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Happy Valentine’s Day !

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.

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 was lost a spouse who was receptive to hearing how someone else’s experience should make them feel “lucky” that they 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, 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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How to Draw Strength from Loss

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

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

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

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

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

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

How did I get past this stage?

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

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

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As I look back on it all I recall that I never took on the burden of “having to be strong”.For whom would I be doing this;to show somebody, what? I didn’t have small children that I had to be there for,I had only myself.When I look back on all I’ve accomplished since my husband’s death, I know that it’s this profound loss that has propelled and strengthened me. My strength is not superficial,worn for the comfort of others. My strength is in the rebuilding of my spirit and my belief in the ultimate goodness of humanity, life ,love and the hope of finding joy again.

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

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

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

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

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