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.

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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.