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.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Me Alone

No one is coming for me. At least no one I can see right now. It's like I'm waiting for a taxi to take me to the airport for a long awaited adventure; I'm standing in the street, a little desperate, as my window for catching the plane grows smaller and smaller. I contemplate missing the plane altogether.

Once upon a time, we loved to go biking in Wisconsin, just the two of us on road bikes in the beautiful countryside of the Kettle Moraine. We were happy buzzing down the roads, endless fields of corn and soy beans growing beside us, red-winged blackbirds chirping on the wires. 

The stones on the road crunched and danced under our wheels until the time my tire blew out. There was nothing to do but wait for you alone on the side of the road with my lame bike while you rode yours all the way back to the house to bring back the car for me.

It would take a while for you to come back to me sitting there all alone on the dusty, quiet, lonely road. It was a lovely solitude knowing you'd soon be back. I could look down the black top and see you coming long before you were even in sight because you always came for me, patched my tires, heard my cries, saw my view.

You're not coming this time. The scared feeling I woke up with this morning is all mine to tolerate. I'm alone on this road as far as I look down.  I'm the one who's coming for me now.


Try this:

Imagine a moment in your life when you felt completely cared for by another person. What did he or she do to make your needs met, to make you feel secure?

Now remember a time when you made yourself feel comfortable, strong and safe in your world. What were you doing, thinking, and feeling?

What action can you take now to make yourself feel safe?

What thought can you hold in your mind to encourage and remind yourself of your own strength?

How does it feel to be here to take care of yourself?


Now I Will Be the One

I will be the one who is here
Now I will be the one who is
coming when I call now I will be
the one I depend on when
scared or sad or nervous or
inspired now I will tell my story
now I will speak aloud now I
will be heard now I will help
others alone in pain now I will remember
you now I will know you
are not coming for me
now like you did back then
now it's me not you anymore
now I know it's true it's me

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Respect Your Loss

It can be easy to find oneself lost in grief. Maybe it's even necessary at times to disappear into it altogether. If the magnitude of your loss is big enough, I think it's fair to say we might owe it to ourselves to give over to it for a time.

Let's look at the opposite of grief. What if I was newly fallen in love, or attained an important goal, or succeeded in accomplishing a great career move, or bought a piece of land to fulfill a long-held dream, or finally found myself a published (and critically successful) author? I would allow myself, and others would understand if I gave myself over to my newfound joys.

Don't our losses deserve the same kind of honor and attention? Turning our back on them too early before we've integrated their meaning can leave us cut off from important parts of ourselves.  It's natural to want to celebrate a win, but losses ask for our respect too. They are just as much a part of a life well-lived.

I think I might hear an objection. Are you wondering what good it does to dwell on difficulty? I am not asking you to dwell or to feel sorry for yourself. The request is to take a very small amount of time each day to reflect on what you have lost. If you are willing to do this, I believe that instead of being diminished by your loss, you will give yourself the insight to grow from it. You will fully realize the strength and power that can be released when you honor loss as much as you honor success.

Here's a question to ask yourself: How can I honor my loss? Spend a few minutes answering this question and see where it takes you.

I will honor my loss by not turning my back on it.

I will honor my loss by using the wisdom I've gained.

I will honor my loss by writing about it.

I will honor my loss by saluting my strength in surviving the loss of my husband and the father of my two young children.

I will honor my loss by trusting myself to take care of my family.

I will honor my loss by using it to help others as I write my way through it word by word.

Surviving your loss:
The most impressive
feat of bravery
I've ever achieved.
Neither willing nor ready
Not prepared or experienced.
Kicked, shoved, beaten down
to the hard, concrete bottom
of the base truth: one life is over.
Slept fitfully or not at all
on the cold, empty floor 
where I owned it all in disbelief.
Awoke to the sound of my own words:
I am still here,
ready, willing.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

What Have You Lost?

It has taken me about this long, three and a half years, to be willing to look more closely at WHAT I LOST. After Ken died, and during his illness, I worked very hard to stay strong, and this meant and still means only tolerating the reality of my loss in small pieces. It was easier for me to tell myself and others that even though I had lost big, I was still better off than many others. Viewing myself as fortunate despite my pain kept me from falling to my knees when I had children who weren't all that much taller than my knees. Now that my kids are bigger, now that time since Ken's death has grown longer, I am more capable of acknowledging the magnitude of losing Ken.

What does your loss look like? Does that sound like an obvious question? Understanding your losses, acknowledging them, and giving yourself credit for surviving them, can help you move forward. Writing about your loss is a powerful tool for recovery akin to exercise, or meditation, or talking to a supportive friend or therapist. It is a tool you can use to improve your life. It can free you from the heaviness of pain so that after spending 10 minutes or 30 minutes or an hour a day writing about matters of deep importance to you, you can move on with your day, your goals and your plans. Making your thoughts visible, makes your own wisdom available to you. Devote 15 minutes a day to healing your loss through writing. Keep a Heartbreak Diary. Write it out. You'll feel better.


Can you "play" with the concept of loss? I think so. What does your loss look like? Describe it for one full minute, whatever comes to you, sensical or non-sensical, let's go:

My loss is a wall that cuts me off from the rest of the world.

My loss is a red light flashing on my head that screams: "Look at me, I'm a widow."

My loss makes me feel unlucky, unhappy and lonely.

My loss is a dream that more and more becomes my reality, but it takes a long time to wake up to this new life and accept it.

My loss won't break me, won't kill me, won't beat me down.

Let's "play" a little more. The flip side of loss is gain. What have you gained through your loss? Give it another minute and see what you come up with:

I've gained a sense of fearlessness because I know that loss can be managed.

I've gained a sense of resignation -- Aha! Life can be very cruel and there's nothing I can do to change that. I have to accept that.

I've gained a willingness to tackle more challenges because I have to, because it is necessary, because I want to.

I've gained a large, encompassing sense of peace.

I've gained a better perspective.


I get it now.
You are really gone.
Grasping your infinite absence:
Like trying to understand
We're part of the Milky Way
While we stare at it overhead
On the darkest of nights.

You aren't coming back to me ever
Even if I hold your memory like a baby,
Even if I never stop writing you onto these pages.

And you are never leaving me either.
I can't write you out of me
Or find you when I pin my hopes
On the wrong guy over and over, I try.

You're staying here
Where you entered,
Where you launched
The gentlest, most peaceful takeover in the history
That continues word by word.

In the darkest night I am
Always alone now.
You are everywhere and nowhere.
I am lost in your magnitude
As I have been since the day
You crossed my threshold
And the night you crossed yours,
Never and completely disappearing.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

How to Tell if You Might Benefit from Keeping Your Own Heartbreak Diary

1. Your friends look off uncomfortably into the distance as you describe the barren reality of your life, again.

2. Your feelings chase you around without stopping, wake you up early, or prevent you from sleeping.

3. You've lost big or you're a big loser, take your pick.

4. You're trying really hard to accept the way your life has turned out but you're still not quite there.

5. You believe that the only one who cam make your life better is you.

6. You want to know the answers that only you can give yourself.

7. You believe it's possible that your own words and thoughts when expressed have the power to change your current circumstances.

8. You just need a place to bitch. You realize that a blank page may be a lot more forgiving than your friends and relatives.

9. You've lost a spouse, a child, a parent, a job, your confidence, your home, your income, your dream, your pet or your center and you'd like to feel better than you do right now.

10. You'd like to try what research has proven to be true: expressing your feelings in writing, (even if no one ever reads your words, even if you throw out the pages after you write them,) can improve your health and well-being.

You can write your way through loss to a better place. Want to give it a try?

Monday, September 07, 2009

Writing as Medicine

Why oh why should I continue to write about the effects of Ken's death on my life?

After all, it's been three and a half years already. Isn't it time to live in the present, to launch purposefully out into the future? Wouldn't it be better to just stop thinking about it? Isn't it time to just MOVE ON? Turns out, I have no idea what moving on means. I put one foot ahead of the other. I have moments of joy and glee and good humor just like the next gal...maybe even more than the next gal, depending on who she is. I turn the calendar at the end of every month. I make goals and accomplish them. I am open to the goodness that exists. Yet still, I am compelled to keep on expressing my feelings about losing my husband.

Writing, as it happens, is an effective, useful way to recover from a personal trauma. Dozens of studies conducted over many years by James Pennebaker, Ph.D, a research psychologist from Southern Methodist University, have shown that writing about your troubles can improve your health and emotional well-being, reduce anxiety and depression, and even heighten your immune function. Proven: writing can help you heal.

I have written steadily about Ken's death, and before that, his four-year illness, since 2002. Our children were just three and six years of age when he was first diagnosed with cancer. He went through multiple rounds of treatment including two stem-cell transplants, one of them requiring that he live in Texas for six months with me going back and forth between a critically ill husband and my two small chidren back in Chicago. At the end of all that treatment, he died from complications due to his transplant. Despite this huge, on-going, long-term, major stressor, I have remained remarkably healthy. I believe that writing out my pain, keeping a Heartbreak Diary, is one of the primary reasons I have stayed so healthy after losing so big.

Three and a Half Years and Counting (Slowly)

What moving forward from Ken's death means to me after three and a half years:

Not being defined solely by what I've lost (although it remains a huge part of my identity).

Beginning to be willing to take on new challenges.

Time to admit that I might find another partner and I might not. Stop obsessing about it.

Accepting that loneliness is a sometimes part of this new life.

Acknowledging the great strength and sense of groundedness that I've gained through this hardship.

An ability to not worry as much since nothing else even compares to living through Ken's illness and death.

A greater appreciation for the good that I have.

The desire to help others who are in pain.

Grasping my role as a single parent and growing in confidence that I can take on what the kids need to the best of my ability.

Accepting that single people are rarely included in couple activities.

The deep understanding that life is finite.

The realization that I am still fortunate even though I lost the best friend I ever had, the person I loved more than anyone else ever, the one who I trusted completely, who made me laugh, whose perspective I understood, who I had chidren with, who I lost three and a half years ago.

Saturday, September 05, 2009


checking email checking email checking email
checking facebook
I'm a widow I am involuntarily single
calling friends
checking email
looking for jobs I'm not ready to take
checking facebook
worrying about money
worrying about my kids
checking email
checking facebook
feeling unworthy
feeling worthy
looking for jobs I'm not ready to take
checking email
checking facebook
reminding myself that I'm OK
I am a widow I am involuntarily single
checking on people who aren't OK
trying to contribute
checking email
checking facebook
growing older/feeling better/getting stronger
kundalini yoga
toning muscles
staying healthy
call my sister
call my brother
write it down
write it all down
men are not on my list of obsessions
men do not appear on this list
checking email
checking facebook
call a friend
tone my body
do some push ups
write it down
fix the house
checking email
checking facebook
check the answering machine

Friday, September 04, 2009

I give up

I give up. I declare it here and now. I am giving up my obsessive pursuit of a new soul mate, a new partner, a lover, a new man to share my life with. It's too hard. I've tried. I've spent more nights than you want to know looking at pictures and reading profiles and driving into the city or meeting at Peet's for coffee with hope in my heart. I give up.

When Ken died, I couldn't think about the magnitude of my loss. I still can't, really. I could barely let myself think of that real man, that warm-bodied, soft-hearted, intuitive man with whom I shared a world-view, a good laugh, children, ..a bed, a life.

Instead, I had to skip over all the memories of our life together, my romantic marital dream, and try to imagine that I could just have it all again with someone different. How could I live without it? I had defined my objective: I will not be alone in the prime of my life, I will not be sexless and partnerless and alone.

Oh sure, if you dared me, I'd have a permanent status report on Facebook that would scream: Doesn't anyone know someone for me? I don't want to be single. I want to have a partner.

But no. I give up. And I open myself to what comes next whether it's watching Madmen alone at night after the kids go to bed or making it to the NYT bestseller list and launching a new career. I turn my back on the dream I had that I could have again the dream I once had which was the life I had once with Ken Jacobson.