Finding Joy… Again and Again

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I believe that being happy is not so far-fetched.My husband Chuck was a contented, balanced human being, however, I would never characterize him as happy. He had moments where he was happy but they were few and far between.He gained great satisfaction from positive events in his life, but I rarely, if ever, saw him giddy or ecstatic with joy. He did, however, possess a good temperament and a sweet nature, although his gallows humor could be a little tough to get used to.But that was my Chuck,not perfect,but then neither was I (although I told him I was and he believed me).

Chuck was a man’s man, tough but also kindhearted. For example, there was the time he came home and announced that a neighbor of ours, who I knew only in passing,would be joining us for Thanksgiving dinner.I was surprised that he had invited a stranger (Chuck was not a fan of strangers) into our home for dinner. He went on to explain that the man had told him that he would be spending Thanksgiving alone, and Chuck was not hearing it. It was fine with me, my motto being the more the merrier. When Thanksgiving arrived Frank did not show up. A few months into the next year, Frank passed away from cancer.I did see him before this happened and told him we had missed him that day, it was then that he revealed details of his illness. He said he really appreciated the invitation and had every intention of coming but had been blindsided by his illness.

My husband Chuck loved to teach and advise anyone who sought his counsel, and many, many did. He would impart pearls of wisdom, with the hope that all those he taught would go forth and live successful and fruitful lives. Financial security and independence were very important to him and he felt that this was one of the keys to building a solid foundation for living a successful and productive life. Chuck would love it when those who had been the recipients of his advice would come back to him and share outcomes that were positive and successful. He felt pride in the fact that he was able to teach others the building blocks for laying the groundwork for creating a fruitful life, from his perspective. He did not necessarily feel happiness, but more a sense of gratification and satisfaction.Chuck was practical,a realist and very pragmatic….black and white no gray.

I, on the other hand, have always been an optimist, even under the most dire of circumstances. I rarely lose hope and always try to connect to my joy. I was and still am, a Pollyanna of sorts. It’s how I’m wired…who I am. Chuck and I were complete opposites in that way.

Although I’m not happy all the time, the happy experiences that I have had have always left me with a feeling of overwhelming joy and and at times exhilaration. I grew up in a family that expressed,unabashedly,feelings of happiness when the situation called for it. We all became giddy with excitement and I just thought that was the norm for everybody when they experienced great pleasure or good news. But I would soon learn that not all people are comfortable with expressing emotions, particularly feelings of joy or sorrow.

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After Chuck passed away my soul became dead, numb. Happiness became a foreign emotion I could no longer access. Even as I began to slowly recover, I found I had lost the ability to “feel” joy. I would soon become satisfied with just being able to put one foot in front of the other and make it through each new day. I felt as though I would never feel happiness again. In those early days of my mourning, I recalled a line from one of Langston Hughes’ poems, ‘life ain’t been no crystal stair’,which reminded me that life is not always going to be filled with good news. Many experiences that people have are full of pain, sorrow and suffering. For some,the pain of whatever is daily, relentless.  I would soon sink into the depths of depression, which is very different from just feeling sad. I felt as if I was sinking into an abyss of hopelessness and despair and  thought that this was going to be my “new normal”….that this new state of my being would have to be okay. So, I settled in for the day-to-day grief, with expectations of no end to the pain in sight.

Many,many months later, years really, I would slowly begin to long to feel joy in my life again. As time wore on and I became more engaged in life again, I began to notice that I had entered a new stage in my grief recovery and that being able to feel joy again might actually be a possibility.

I do believe that being able to feel joy has to do with how we were raised, our life experiences and how we internalize and eventually manifest our emotions. In life, we can’t prevent those random interruptions that can cause trauma and turmoil and change the course of our lives, but we can intentionally dwell on good ideas and thoughts and strive to live our lives in accordance with those thoughts. One’s emotional state of well being and positive responses can rub off on others, and inspire those around us to also begin to believe that happy is not so far-fetched. Sometimes that doesn’t always work and others may remain remote, morose, and stoic, but we, who are the optimists, must continue to stay true to who we are and try to avoid being dragged down into another person’s emotional response to situations that are good and positive…like quicksand. Some folks are simply joy killers and although we may not be able to change who they are we do not want them to change who we are either. 

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Of course we may not be happy everyday, but we will experience periodic satisfaction and contentment and that is more than we could ever hope for as we live and face life’s challenges. In life there are highs and lows, and as we get older we will find that having a great thing happen one week and a sad thing happen the next increases in frequency.

When we grieve, we will eventually one day feel a little change take place. Something will make us laugh again and eventually we will experience a shift until we are feeling like our “new self”, unlike our old self. Along with this new self-awareness will also be the acknowledgment that we’re beginning to see a light at the end of the tunnel of grief.The goal is to one day become immersed in that metaphorical light. Soon we will also realize that we’re feeling less grim and more optimistic about where we are in our lives. We will begin to appreciate the path we’ve been on and how far we’ve come.

Remember, as written by William Ernst Henley in Invictus, and one of my husband’s most favorite quotes,we are “the captains of our own ship, the masters of our own fates and our thoughts and feelings are our destiny”. After loss, do not be afraid to feel better again. You will not be betraying your lost loved one and you will actually be being true to who you are: a human being who is still here. Don’t give up on life as it will never give up on you.

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Follow me on Instagram https://www.instagram.com/yvonne_broady/

To read more about my grief journey and how you can  navigate yours read Brave in a New World: A Guide to Grieving the Loss of a Spouse, available on Amazon.com http://tinyurl.com/jnjs5fu

Please feel free to write a review  of my book on Amazon and thank you for your continued support of my efforts to help others to heal after loss.

 

The First Visit

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It's been some time since I visited my husband's grave. My husband Chuck is in a plot in a beautiful, peaceful setting among all who have become a part of the ages. When I'm there I browse pictures of many of those who are also interred at the same cemetery. I'm amazed at the many young women and young men who have been laid to rest far too soon.

Then there were those who lived for many years many well into their 90's and 100's. I used to wonder why my husband couldn't have been one of those people.I often wonder about the lives of those who are interred and who they once were when they were here among us.

I love to visit Chuck's gravesite, as the surrounding area is a beautiful, bucolic setting, where I'm able to just sit, think, pray,meditate, and weep. I can be at one with my thoughts as I consider this my private time with Chuck.

I haven't always been eager to go visit Chuck's crypt.In fact,I recall just making that first visit was quite a hurdle which I didn’t easily jump. The folks in my bereavement group had all been to visit their spouses' graves. Some had been going once a week, and others have been several times since the death of their spouses. All,with no exception,felt closest to him or her there. I was a bit anxious about making that first visit and expressed my apprehension to the group. They were nonjudgmental, kind, empathetic and assured me that when I was ready, I would know and I would go.

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One afternoon I announced to them that I was going to make my first visit,which was by then, some five months since Chuck had passed away. I guess by telling them, it was a way of ensuring that I would definitely make that trip so as not to disappoint any of them. However, I knew they weren’t really like that, judgy, condemning, critical. This group's ability to accept each of us where we were is what endeared these folks to me. They knew that every new step was tough and visiting the spouse's gravesite for the first time was up there with “a tough thing”.

The day I decided to go I called a cab, a number that I found among a bunch of business cards. I asked the driver to wait for me as I didn’t know what to expect and I wanted to be able to readily escape should I need to.

I bought some beautiful pink roses and a vase and made my way up to the cemetery. My driver, Sergio, reminded me that he had driven me once before several months earlier,before Chuck had passed away. Sergio did not know the details of my life, and I told him that my husband had been ill and had died. He was very, very sympathetic, expressing condolences and offering words of support. This driver, my Sergio, would soon become my lifelong friend and a part of my extended family. He would always look out for me as I grieved and healed. We made our way up to the cemetery navigating the twists and turns of the winding road, riding past scores of tombstones and monuments, until we finally arrived at my destination.

The first day in long awhile that I've visited my husband's grave.It wasn't as bad as I expected it wouldn't be.After 8 years,I too am now at peace.Remember you do not have to be strong all the time.Remaining stoic can make you brittle. #loss #recovery #dayinalife #sip #gatherthestrength #pancreaticcancer #hope #widows #onedayatatime #mourning #losthusband #memorieslastforever #griefsupport #love #melancholy #keepthefaith #carryon #seniors @sherylsandberg #braveinanewworld #huffpostgram #helpisontheway #pain #survival #tears #weep #crycrycry

I got out of the car, and I walked over to his crypt. When I saw his name that had been carved into the marble along with his date of birth and his date of death, it made the reality and finality of Chuck’s death all the more real. I was shaken, and I cried and placed the flowers in the water in the vase at his gravesite. I sat inside, and walked around praying to myself  and crying, praying and crying. It was truly a pitiful moment. Me of the Chuck and Yvonne team, now all alone missing and longing to see my husband at least one more time. I knew that this was the closest I would get to being with him again, but it was an overwhelming experience, one which shook me to my core on that beautiful day in a pastoral setting as I came to grips with being a fresh widow.

Soon after I got back into Sergio’s car and asked him to drive me to the nearest Home Depot. I needed to roam mindlessly somewhere as I gathered my composure and allowed my visit to sink in. I wanted to be indoors as I felt vulnerable and the gigantic Home Depot did the trick. I roamed the huge store and as I did I was able to shake off some of the sadness and apprehension while searching for items that would eventually be used to transform my home from the place that Chuck I shared,to a place that I would continue to inhabit and live on my own. It proved to be a distraction from the jolting experience I'd just had.

I would visit the cemetery again that year several times as well as the next. Since that time I haven’t gone up as frequently as I had in the beginning, as the desire to go has diminished somewhat. I know I can visit with him anytime, anywhere, but the beautiful setting and the peaceful surroundings block out the distractions of my everyday life, ensuring that all my attention will be focused on thoughts of Chuck, who he was, who we were together, and the impact he had on my life.

Everyone who loses a spouse will face that first time that they will have to make their way to their husbands' and wives' graves. If they had been cremated there may be the question of what to do with the ashes, which can cause some consternation as well.

The idea that you’re going somewhere outside of your home to visit a place which holds the spouse's remains can be anxiety producing at first,as well as a bit surreal. There are many challenges women face as they transition from married to widowhood. Coming to terms with the fact that they are no longer a part of a marital partnership, and that they will never see their spouse alive again is truly cemented once one views where their partner's remains have been laid.

The sight of my husband’s date of birth and death engraved in the marble registered onto my brain. I stood there frozen under the glare of that hot sun. Soon,the shock of the pain gave way to an arresting calm.Eventually, it became clear to me that I was adjusting to the fact that Chuck was no longer in pain from his cancer and was finally at peace. That small comforting thought helped me to finally accept the reality of my circumstance and the finality of Chuck's.My subsequent visits would thus become less daunting as I visited Chuck in his final resting place.

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Follow me on Instagram https://www.instagram.com/yvonne_broady/

To read more about my grief journey and how you can  navigate yours read Brave in a New World: A Guide to Grieving the Loss of a Spouse, available on Amazon.com http://tinyurl.com/jnjs5fu

Please feel free to write a review on Amazon…….

Do It Anyway and Show Up for Yourself

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

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

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

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

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

Then,one day, without warning, I came home and realized that the shroud of emptiness and grief had been lifted. I had made changes to my home and each change blurred the edges of my old existence, my former life with my husband Chuck.By doing this I had made room for my new life and my “new beginning”. I would eventually begin to feel alive again with renewed hope and optimism.This was a long and painful process,but I got through it.

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

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

1.Getting past the pain of loss

2.Allowing the distractions to help you to heal

3 Creating new relationships.

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

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

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Footnote:  Dedicated to Kathryn 

To find out more about how you can heal after loss read Brave in a New World:A Guide to Grieving the Loss of a Spouse available on Amazon http://tinyurl.com/jnjs5fu or at LULU Publishing.com http://tinyurl.com/pesxa6e

They Are with Us More Now

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My husband Chuck and I were very busy people. We were professionals and essentially, like other baby boomers, we worked hard at working hard. We were parents and we were children of living parents.

Before we got married, Chuck and I spent most weekends together and sometimes he surprised me with a visit after work during the weekday. He was a venture capitalist then, working at his own company and teaching business and finance in local colleges in the evenings.

I always looked forward to my time with Chuck. We would spend weekends at his apartment talking about life and our future. We talked about our pasts as we continued to get to know each other. We loved watching new movies and old ones. Chuck was a movie buff, and the first time I watched Breakfast at Tiffany’s was at his apartment. He was shocked that I had never seen that movie, and I discovered that that movie reminded me of myself in a lot of ways. It reminded him of me as well. But then I do digress.

Eventually we developed our own rituals and traditions, many of which occurred in the summertime. Trips to Connecticut dropping our son Karim off at camp, and then, childless for two months we’d explore the surrounding environs. We took trips to Massachusetts, DC, Michigan, Chicago,Louisiana,N.C.,Hilton Head,Sag Harbor,Narragansett…….various and sundry places, traveling along together and growing closer.

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Once we were married we began to suffer from a scarcity of time. Although we did things together,and still continued with our summer vacations, time spent wasn’t of the same quality as before. Life changing events happened so quickly out of the blue back then; Chuck’s mom was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s; Chuck’s dad became ill as well. Chuck’s sister moved away from New York, she, having been the spirit and soul of our family.

As the years went on my father became ill and would pass away in 2005. I mourned him sorely for a long while until Chuck was diagnosed with cancer.It was then that I had to be able to switch focus from silent mourning for my dad to caring for my husband. The tenor of our lives which we had before we were married and in the beginning of our marriage,would soon be interrupted by life changing events.Our day to day lives changed too,as did our time with each other.We were focused more on the sudden changes in our families that were taking place,than on quality time between the two of us.

The long year spent as my husband’s caregiver was consumed with his care and well being more than our relationship. He was so ill, bravely soldiering on and,although I was still working, I made sure that all his needs were met.It was tough,and I’m sure I fell short in a lot of ways, but I did my best. I got support from his family, my family, my colleagues and friends. There was no time to spend focusing on us, as I was on a mission to save my husband’s life as it slowly slipped away.

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Then Chuck died and herein lies the irony. I began to talk to Chuck, to dream of him, to write to him and about him. I asked him questions, told him things that were on my heart. I thought of him all the time until he became a part of my daily being. He remained with me wherever I went.All the memories of him kept me close to him…awake, asleep…. asleep, awake. Then one day I came to an odd realization that in many ways I was closer to Chuck in death than I had been in life.

The everyday busy-ness of our lives prevented us from re-creating our premarital closeness. But now in death, now that he was no longer alive, he was closer to me than ever before. His spirit was or had become a part of me. He had become my eternal partner, somewhere in the ether…free to summon whenever I wished.

This is the odd but true legacy that I’ve gained since my husband’s death.It’s a gift out of my great loss, albeit a bittersweet one with a lesson for others: Love your partner….cherish and care for them while they are with you here,in the flesh.Time spent with each other should be more important than time spent with anyone else, because in love matters, love matters and when they’re gone, they’re gone.

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Do No Harm

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

After Grief : Change Is on The Way

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I can say undeniably,that I am no longer the person I once was since the death of my husband. However, it has taken me many years to be able to look back at my cumulative progression. I have recalled my long, long mourning, my struggle to rebuild my life and my eventual emergence into my “new normal”.

As the world turns so do we. We often find ourselves beginning again,turning from old ways to new beginnings,via  life’s constantly changing circumstances and also by being exposed to new ideas. We are always given an opportunity to open ourselves up to fresher ways of thinking and living our lives.We think that things will remain the same, but they do not, and the news is that they aren’t suppose to.This is all a part of life, yours and mine.

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My life before my husband was just that…… before him. When Chuck and I became husband and wife my life totally changed. I was no longer the single woman I’d once been,as I was now in a sacred partnership.I had to learn to accommodate another person’s feelings, habits, routines, idiosyncrasies, values, and emotions. Chuck had to do the same with me. In so doing,we had to learn to compromise, which sometimes got a little messy, but in the end it always worked out for the highest good of each of us and our little family. Life with another involves change and accommodation. We cannot expect to hold sway in every decision, and contrary to popular thought, one person does not always know what’s best at all times.Honoring and respecting a partner’s point of view is a good way  to have a harmonious marriage…give and take….oh but then,I do digress.

There are very few 50/50 relationships. Oh people say they do things 50/50, especially nowadays,but if someone gets ill or is out of work, or is forced out of the blue to assume an unforeseen responsibility that alters the normal routine of family life, more than likely the husband or wife will have to assume the burden of picking up the slack for the better good of the family.It is at these times when a couple must rely on their love bond,which undergirds the foundation of their marriage, in order to deal with whatever lies ahead.

Through the struggles and unpredictable situations that will arise in all relationships as we live and grow older,once we make it through we might be surprised to find out that after the difficulty, the outcome may include a blessing in disguise. One’s life may end up taking a new direction that a person could never foresee,and you may end up taking a path that you never ever expected to be on. However,one must continue to work through the pain so as not to get stuck at the fork in the road.

My husband Chuck and I had a life together. We cared for parents, who seemed to age very quickly,out of the blue.We took on new family challenges and became the parents, in essence, to our parents, as eventually the parent-child roles were reversed. And I must say,my husband truly stepped up to the plate. As I began to care for my father, Chuck chipped in as if it were his dad. He became not only someone I could lean on, but the man I could rely on to assist me as I cared for my father. We adapted our lives to meet the challenges that were quickly hurdling our way. Our mutual love and commitment, strengthened our bond, allowing us to be there for each other as we adhered to those vows “till death do us part”. Never did we imagine, little did we know, that our sacred promise would be put to the test in a way that would initially shake us up.But in the end,our collective resolve was to see things through, no matter what. We were a fierce force together until the end. After my husband died,and when the dust had settled I would soon begin my journey through the grieving process and settle into “a new normal”, one that I could have never imagined.

I read many widows’ stories and laments, numerous ones mirroring my own. Women with children, women who’ve been married over 40, 50, 60 years. Some women have been married a year or two or ten.Sudden illnesses, heart attacks, rare diseases, accidents.They write about the pain and how they’ll never get over the loss. They write about how life will never be the same. Well,it’s true you will never get over the loss, but in time you can get past it, if you’re willing.Eventually, the hurt will lessen until it becomes a part of the fabric of who you are. You will have a new perspective on your life,friendships,the world,love,death, and all the intangible aspects of being alive.

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My life has changed drastically from my former life before my husband died. The life I have now is rich and full of hope. It was unimaginable to me in the early stages of my grief that I would ever be in this really good place,but it was created out of the ashes of my tragic loss and formed by the tiny steps that I took to come back to life again. The things I have experienced,the amazing people who have been put in my path and have helped me grow;all this would not have taken place had my husband and I remained in tact. And, although I would rather have had him here with me, I now understand that was not in the cards for me and my life alone was a part of my destiny. All the pain, and the changes strengthened me, made me wiser, made me more empathetic,more perceptive,more intuitive.I understand the fragility of life and how the most salient thing is to remember that people,not things,are important.Caring for others is doing God’s work.

Every loss is meant to transform those who are left.These are those watershed moments that define and shape us. You are being asked to step up to a higher level of consciousness when you are faced with unexpected changes in conditions,which can lead to opportunities for a higher state of self-awareness and the possibility of coming into more of your own.

Of course,when it comes to losing a spouse, the initial challenge is getting through the grief and pain of loss and that is always up to those who grieve. Remember,after loss,(although hard to understand when blinded by the veil of grief) you’re being given an opportunity  and so we must decide if we are going to remain in pain,running in place or do we shed the shackles of grief and walk toward something new? It’s up to you.

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Something New

 

 

 

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.

 

Happy Valentine’s Day !

 

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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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