About Me

My wonderful husband died when I was 44 years old. Being widowed this young happens to less than 3% of married people. Writing through this loss one word at time helps me understand what I've lost and helps me continue to grow. It is how I have gradually recovered from such a severe loss. Research shows that you can benefit from taking just 15 minutes a day to write out your deepest feelings as a way of healing. On the right side of this blog, you'll see a tag for Exercises to Try. If you need some help knowing how to use writing to help heal yourself, I suggest you start there.

Monday, November 23, 2009


Thought I'd try today to think about what I'm grateful for that is a direct result of losing my husband. This is a little thought experiment designed to see what happens when you take the worst thing that could happen to you and try to make it into something really lovely and grand and life-affirming. People always talk about the good, the growth, the spiritual awakenings that can arise from loss. Can I find good in the death of a good man? Of my good man? Can I find something good and special lurking here in the darkest room of my existential home? Is there a diamond or two to be found amidst the ashes of Ken's death? You undoubtedly know already, as I do, that the answer is indeed, yes.

Charles Dickens wrote in Great Expectations, "...suffering has been stronger than all other teaching...I have been bent and broken, but - I hope - into a better shape." While I would give anything to return to the less improved, ignorant, but non-widowed version of myself, I take this moment to salute the sorrier, more broken, but slightly wiser me.

Today, I am more satisfied with the elements that make up my life. I no longer beat myself up about finding purpose or not somehow being "enough". Reading a good book under my warm covers. Replacing my furnace and installing new heating ducts...I mean, a warm home is really something that makes me happy. Volunteering my time to a good cause. Speaking my truth in the hope that it can help another. My yoga class. Dinner with my kids. Raking. Sitting at a swim meet all day long. Going to my college reunion. Walking around town and always bumping into someone I know. Feeling bad and getting over it. Trying hard. Contributing where I can. Laughing with friends. A phone call with my sister or brother. Dreaming. This is happiness. I get it. I'm lucky just to be here. So many people aren't anymore. My favorite person isn't here anymore.

Today, I worry so much less about the future. The apocalypse already came and went for me, and here I am. Bad things WILL happen, never fear, just brace yourself, and enjoy it all the more when there's nothing much to report. Peace and happiness lie in the everyday moments when crisis is either so far behind you that you can't really feel it anymore, or so far in front of you that you can't even imagine what it might be made of next time.

Today I know that even though I was tremendously unlucky to lose Ken so soon in our married life together, I was also incredibly lucky to have spent 15 years of my life with him. Incredibly lucky. Fifteen years is a long time. For 29 years I lived without him, and when we met, it was as though finally I had found the person who understood me and who I understood in a complete way that felt just right in all the most important aspects. I'm tough. I managed without him all those years, and here I am again without him, but this time, I have everything he gave me, including our two children and his family, where pieces of him reside. I'll never be as alone again as I was before he came along.

Today I am more compassionate. While I might not win any contest for being the kindest, sweetest, least confrontational woman you know, I do understand better now that we are all flawed, we are imperfect, we are bundles of impulses, chemicals, circuitry, conditioned responses. We try, we fail, we succeed, we screw up badly, our bodies or minds get sick, we are angels, we hurt and we rise again and again until we are silenced. We're all dying, but we all get to live for a time. It's short, even when it's long, it's just a moment, but somehow, against all odds, we're here.

Today I know beyond a doubt, and after watching my late husband suffer from cancer, good health is precious. If you feel good, don't just do it, revel in it, honor it, and do what you can to sustain it. Start small if that's all you can manage...drink more water, take a few more steps each day, keep on searching for your own path to better health.

So that's my short list of goodness arising from my loss. Greater general satisfaction. Less worry. A sense of being lucky. Greater compassion. Gratitude and great appreciation for good health.

"...suffering has been stronger than all other teaching...I have been bent and broken, but - I hope - into a better shape."


What has suffering taught you? What have you gained from your most difficult experiences? Make a list. Write about it. Find your gratitude.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Loss Can Make You a Little Crazy!

Writing about loss isn't about dwelling in pain or staying stuck. It's about releasing deep feelings so that you can move forward. I write this Heartbreak Diary of my own publicly, to encourage others to write about their feelings. My goal is to introduce as many people as possible to the idea that WRITING ABOUT FEELINGS IS HEALTHY. It's not necessary to write a public blog, or even share your words, although if that feels good, do it. Writing about feelings is simply an effective, free, easy method to improve both emotional and physical health. Your body needs exercise. Your emotions do too. Write it out...you'll feel better.

Loss has made me do some crazy things. In trying to regain balance, I've teetered, sometimes too far in one direction or another trying to find a steadier path. Today's exercise is called "WHAT WAS I THINKING!!!"

Has your sense of loss or struggle ever driven you to do crazy things? Has it put you off kilter? Have you tried to right yourself using less than balanced methods? Have you had unrealistic expectations? Have you tried some crazy shit? I bet you have. (Or if you haven't, maybe you should!)

WHAT WERE YOU THINKING!!!? Write about it now.


What was I thinking when I left my young children with a babysitter, took off for the weekend a year after my husband died, drove four hours from suburban Chicago to rural Southwestern Wisconsin, imagining that a divorced organic foods activist that I met on JDate, who lived on a remote farm with two cats and life restrictions caused by environmental illness could be my next great husband?

What was I thinking when I imagined that tall, handsome "Ben", who confessed early in our relationship that he often "flamed out" on relationships quickly, that his father was married six times and possessed no moral compass, and who protested all too frequently that he "did not want to run away" from our relationship, could be my next great husband?

What was I thinking when I imagined that a law school professor who talked bitterly of his bad 20 year marriage, and spoke disparagingly of his own grown daughter, could be my next great husband?

I'll tell you what I was thinking....I was thinking: I had it so good with my great husband that when he died I couldn't imagine how I would live without all the good energy, spirit, intention, and love that he gave me on a daily basis, so in my struggle to survive my loss, I had to pretend it would be easy to do it all again, and quickly.

That's what I was thinking.

Now, what were you thinking?

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Toleration, Sufferance, Endurance

Toleration. Sufferance.

Patient endurance, especially of pain or distress.

Feel like bursting out of my skin.
Maybe I already have,
And there's nothing left.

Can't stand it anymore
This uncomfortable spot.
Sometimes too cold, sometimes too hot.

How long do I have to live this way?
How long must I wait?
Itching. Painful. Sore.
Edges raw.
Healing takes infinitely longer
Than I knew.
But then,
this is my first major catastrophe.
It hurts everywhere
I am exposed.

I'd give anything to be elbow to elbow with you again.
In quiet consultation, head to head,
Your steady hand on mine.
Two worldviews meshing.
The tight fit.
The safe zone.
Our place.
The length of you covering the length of me.

No more.

Endurance. en·dur·ance
1. The act, quality, or power of withstanding hardship or stress: A marathon tests a runner's endurance.
2. The state or fact of persevering: Through hard work and endurance, we will complete this project.
3. Continuing existence; duration.

But truthfully,
and, also,
I like myself.
I love my kids.
I like my house.
I like this world.
There's more to see.
There's more to write.
I still have an appetite.


What are you tolerating? What is uncomfortable? What must you endure? Take 5 minutes and write about it.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

What's too painful? Write about it.

I don't think anyone would argue that there are certain activities known to be good for your health, like aerobic exercise, yoga, meditation, swimming, or stretching. I'd like writing to be added to the list. Research has shown that writing 15 minutes a day, about how you feel, promotes mental and physical well-being. If you've suffered a loss, it can be really cathartic to put your sad, angry, bitter, resentful, mournful, disbelieving feelings into words.

And who would argue that sometimes doing healthful activities can be painful? Ever run a 5K? Ever tried standing in the warrior pose for a couple of minutes? Ever stretch out your hamstrings? Ever try to sit still and meditate for 20 minutes? Ever do a series of squats and lunges? All of these activities can be pleasurable as well as so difficult you can't wait until they're over and you can go lie down. But keep it up despite the pain and you get toned muscles, healthy lungs, a mind that knows how to be at peace.

Writing is no different. Fifteen minutes a day of writing can be a breeze or it can be painful. Either way, it's good for you. It's like exercise for your emotions. They need fresh air too. Open up. Let them out for god's sake.

This brings me to today's topic: What's too painful? Are you out of work? Did your spouse die? Is your knee in such bad shape you can't play tennis anymore? Have you lost your great body? Did your boyfriend dump you? Has your son stopped calling since he left home? Do you never get invited anywhere? Is your mother immoral?

Think about it. What's too painful to admit? What feelings hurt? Write it down. Putting your feelings on paper gives them shape. You can make a story out of how you feel. You control the story. You can change it.


What is too painful? It changes over time but I guarantee that whatever it is that's too painful to bring to your conscious awareness deserves some attention and respect. Sometimes respecting your pain is letting it hide for a while, only sneaking a look occasionally in the cover of darkness. If your pain is holding you back or causing you physical discomfort or making you feel uncomfortably sad, it might be time to open up a bit and let some of it out.

When my husband was first diagnosed with cancer in 2002 it was too painful to imagine that he might die. Being hopeful was best, by far.

After he went through a grueling six months of chemotherapy and his cancer went into remission, it was too painful to think that it might come back.

After his cancer came back, it was too painful to think about our bad luck, so I spent a lot of time trying to tell myself how fortunate we were regardless or our bad luck.

After Ken had his first stem cell transplant, it was too painful to think about the toll this disease was taking on our young family, so we tried to live as normally as possible. Normal life was receding, but it was too painful to let it go.

After Ken's cancer returned yet again, it was too painful to give up. So he went to Texas for a second and very high risk stem cell transplant.

After the second transplant Ken lived in his hospital room for six months with a series of complications and bad news. It was too painful to believe that after so many years of trying so hard, and being such a good patient, and remaining a loving, stable, and good-natured force for those he knew and loved, it was too painful to believe that he might still die anyway.

After Ken died it was too painful to look at families that had one mother and one father; to see intact families together; to watch fathers playing with their children; to look at happily married couples.

A year after Ken died, it was still too painful for me to accept that my happy married life with him was over forever, so I began dating, believing that the best thing I could do for myself would be to try to quickly replicate the life I had just lost.


I understand that I was incredibly, amazingly lucky to have found Ken Jacobson in this big, wide world, and that when I found him I loved him and he loved me back. I am moving beyond pain to an appreciation for just how charmed I was for fifteen years of my life so far to have known Ken, to have been his wife, to have had children with him, and to have raised those children with him for a little while.