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.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

An Exercise Worth Repeating, Regularly

I believe fervently that writing about one's deepest and most basic feelings is one of the simplest actions you can take to keep your life moving forward, to avoid getting stuck in unhealthy emotional spaces. In fact, that's what this entire blog is about: sharing feelings about loss in words to both move myself forward, and perhaps inspire others to do so as well.

(It's no surprise to me that so many people are out here writing blogs since they've lost their spouse. In fact, I'd wager than those who are writing about their losses on a regular basis are healing up quicker than they might be otherwise.)

Every now and then I'll post one of these blog entries on my Facebook page. I can't help wondering if those who have never had a spouse die young are surprised by the fact that I'm still writing about his death almost five years later. Do they think I'm stuck? Do they think I just can't "get over it"? Well, I believe the exact opposite is true and as I write I move on through different aspects of grief.


Here's a really simple exercise I like to repeat every once in a while to see where I currently stand in relation to my loss. There are a lot of different ways you can lead into this but it starts with a simple prompt like:

Today my loss feels like:


What is most interesting about my loss now is:


What I'd like to say about my grief today is:


What I'd like to say about my grief today is:

--That even though this time of year is the time that complications from Ken's second stem cell transplant were sending him on a steep and scary decline, I actually had a really great Thanksgiving this year that didn't find me dwelling on what I didn't have, or feeling full of sorrow. I felt pretty joyful.

--I am happy again, but in a different way, in a more measured away, in a holding back and careful way.

--It makes me so much more able to wait and see, to feel discomfort, to embrace uncertainty.

--I'm kind of afraid to need someone again the way I needed my husband.

--It sure feels better with a new man in my life.

--I believe that if you can overcome an intense loss, you can overcome just about anything. I feel somewhat invincible. And I find that weird, because I've been so leveled by loss.

--It's so heartbreaking that Ken couldn't be there with us at yesterday's Thanksgiving meal...it's so heartbreaking that he can't do anything with us anymore...and at the same time, he is so present for all of us. You have to figure out how to live with the loss. Why is it so hard when it's such a basic element of what we all must eventually encounter? Why are we so flummoxed by death?


Your turn. You and loss. Today. Write about it. Don't think too hard. Just a few sentences.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Ten Widow Peeves (or Thanksgiving is on Thursday and I Feel Like Complaining.)

1. It is none of your business when and who a widow/er dates. When you lose your spouse, you can make your own dating rules, OK? Or maybe you'd prefer to spend the rest of your life alone. That's your choice. I think losing your spouse at a young age is the second worst thing that can happen to a person. (First, if you don't have kids.) Give widowed people some slack. If they can find their way back to happiness, they've worked damn hard to get there.

2. Forget about analyzing and comparing the widow/er's new partner as compared to their dead spouse. The new living guy or gal isn't the dead one. There is no reason why they should be similar so don't be surprised if they are totally different. But if you're still scratching your head, here's the secret answer: they are two different people.

3. I try hard to not judge you when you say how hard it is when your husband is away for a couple of days or even a week on business. I used to feel that way too. But when you do say it to me, behind my fixed pupils my eyes are rolling. I actually can't believe I have acclimated myself to the fact that my husband is never coming home.

4. Why oh why couldn't I have had the perspective on life that was gifted to me by my husband's death when he was still alive?

5. Do you know how much I wish that my son, who lost his dad when he was six, would have one or two men in his life who would take a deep interest in him and provide him with the attention and guidance that only a man can give him?

6. I don't know when or if I'll ever stop grieving the loss of my husband. If that makes you uncomfortable, too bad.

7. I wish it weren't so difficult to accept being happy again. Being happy feels a little bit wrong. It's like Happy-Lite.

8. I hate that my husband died and I always will.

9. Please don't ever tell me my husband died for a reason. I happen to be comforted by the idea of randomness, inevitability, and sheer bad luck.

10. There will be more to lose and I will get better at accepting it every time. What kind of improvement plan is that???

Friday, November 12, 2010

More Grateful, Less Secure

Everything has changed since I lost Ken on January 14, 2006. I lost my husband, my most trusted confidante, a truly wonderful man, the father of our kids. I became a single parent, no longer able to share my concerns for them with someone equally invested in their well-being. I make all the important decisions: I decide and I act when I want to on matters big and small. I learned to sleep alone with a pile of books and newspapers where a loving partner used to be. I started taking care of the grass and home repairs. When squirrels got into the house, I'm the one who had to figure out how to get them out. We set the table for three instead of four. I've driven 2,000 miles as a solo driver with my kids, something I never thought I could do. I've learned, and even worse, my kids have learned way too young that sometimes the very worst thing does happen. Just recently I noticed that sometimes I say the words "my late husband." I guess it's because I'm seeing someone else now and it sounds funny to say "my husband" when I'm clearly with another man. But I think my ability to utter those words also has to do with the fact that it's been almost five years. He's getting farther away, my late husband. He hasn't been my husband for a while now.

Of all the things that have changed for me, the one I'm noticing the most now, is how I seem to have lost the sense of safety and security Ken's existence brought to my life. Ken was a no-risk proposition. His solidity, his humanity, his goodness and his love for me and our kids was unshakably true for me. I had made such a good and important choice; we had chosen well when we chose each other -- and still, and still it ended, and it ended badly with Ken suffering, dying young, leaving us behind with so much left to be done. I had an illusion and the illusion was this: because I had chosen such a great partner, I would be safe. I think many women grow up with this illusion: a man will make me safe.

I don't think I can ever believe that again, and I'm OK with that. There is something strangely freeing to me about embracing this crapshoot of a life with open arms -- as an individual. Heads or tails? Who knows which answer is the right one, or where your life will lead you when you make your next choice? In losing Ken, I've had to grapple with my alone-ness, with my singular responsibility for how I will live the rest of my life, for how I will cope when it gets tough out there, and for realizing that the infinite possibilities of experience we are privileged to have while we are still alive and healthy are enormous gifts. Granted, we don't always know what's inside these gift boxes, but we get to open them, to be surprised, to receive something new. That's something Ken can't do anymore. So I'm lucky, more grateful, more open to happiness -- less safe, less secure. I accept.


When we lose someone, change becomes our predominant environmental condition. But even the changes change over time. Where are you now in relation to the change that has accompanied your loss? Write about change for five minutes. Get to know your current environment.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Dear New Love

It is amazing to have love again in my life, to have somebody who cares about me, thinks about me, and holds me. Ever since my husband died, and for the years that I feared he would, I have wondered how I would ever manage without him. It hasn't been easy. Working to accept this loss has consumed and transformed me. Diminished me. Expanded me. I think that this loss will continue to shape me forever.

I want you to know that sometimes it is hard for me to acknowledge how much you mean to me. I have lost the delusion of permanence and I am trying to live every moment, in balance, with peace, no matter if I am alone or with you. It feels critical that I not be too attached to any one definition of happiness, particularly the happiness derived from love. Self-containment feels like a vital act of personal preservation.

My happiness with you is measured because I sometimes feel as though the wonderful, loving feelings I have for you detract from the love I had and continue to hold for Ken. The terrible truth is this: if Ken had lived there would be no you in my life. I wish Ken were still alive, and I would bring him back to life if I could because I don't want him to be dead. Because he died, I found you. I am glad you're here with me now. I like loving our uncertain future together.


Try this:

One of the hardest aspects of loving again after loss are the inevitable comparisons between the one who died and the one who lives. Can you play with idea of comparing? You know you do it. You know it makes you feel uncomfortable. Embrace it.

I refuse to compare the living and the dead.
The living just sent me a text message.
The dead lives on in my children.

I hate to compare the living and the dead.
The dead doesn't have a chance vs. the living.
The living doesn't have a chance vs. the dead.

I compare the living and the dead.
My foundation lies on the earth where you left me;
I tap dance on the newly sprouted grass.

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Stopping in Peace

Going through a major traumatic event is exhausting. Losing someone you love is devastating. I find that almost five years after my husband's death, I avoid stress wherever I can. Contentment matters more to me than ever before. It feels essential to my well-being. I might as well be a hippie carrying a multi-colored sign that reads: PEACE + LOVE cause that's all I want anymore.

I am not ready to stop
Being content, to change.
I will not give up my peace.
After years of spinning,
Reaching for light,
Returning to darkness,
With every revolution,
Lightheaded yet grounded,
Tied to the wheel
As it turned us over and over.
We became thinner, more fragile.
I trusted the inner ear
To maintain balance, to know up from down.
This spinning can't go on endlessly.
Eventually slowed to an absolute
Halt. Where I find myself now:
A still, calm, silent rock on the ground.
Flung from the heavy wheel
Sprouting shoots, tendrils, soft moss
Fingers, arms, muscles, fists, hands
Held to the sun
Which has never, ever felt as warm
On this cold surface
Heating up. Transforming. Growing subversively.
No longer empty, barren.
I am not ready to change,
Ideally suited to my current environment.
No more spinning, please not yet.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Happy Little Ode to Death

Happiness is coming back to me. I trace its return to March of this year, four years and two months after Ken's death. Around that time, some of the heaviness of grief began to lift. (Not to get too weird on you, but shortly before this lighter me began to appear, I did have a moment when I felt and saw something that I took as Ken's spirit shimmering at the foot of my bed. Then there was a flash of light, and the shimmering human form disappeared with a flash past my bedroom window. The experience, in the moment, left me feeling awestruck.)

It's not like I ever completely lost the ability to be happy during his illness and since his death. Thankfully, I've always been able to find pieces of joy wherever I go. But, coming face to face with the prospect of losing Ken, and then meeting his death head-on and slogging through years of pain, have made a purer form of happiness available to me now. How can I describe it? How can it possibly make sense that I would be happier after the person who introduced me, finally, to the love I had longed for, was dead?

I wish I had possessed this form of happiness and contentment while he was alive. I think he had it all along. But me? What a dope. Until I understood that what we cherish most can be ripped away...can come to an end...WILL come to an end...I didn't get it and I worried and struggled more than I felt grateful. Never again, I say!

So, here's a little happy ode to death.
After you read mine, create your own!


Death is horrific, but:

-- once you've lived through it, there's not likely to be anything worse that you'll ever have to encounter

--life sure feels good when you consider that you could be lying in a hospital bed instead

--the best way to honor your loved one is to remember how much they'd rather be here and to show life the reverence they can no longer feel

--it's real and it hasn't come for me, yet

--I am a better, stronger, happier, healthier person because I let it wake me up from silly delusions of unimportant matters

--because of losing Ken, I have been enriched, and though I sometimes feel ashamed that it took his death to make me wiser and more content, I will not squander what I've learned

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

I Laughed at My Husband's Funeral

I remember laughing at my husband's funeral.

Did I hate him? Am I a callous, unfeeling, spiteful woman? Was I waiting for my chance to cut him loose?


I loved him. I was happy with him. I wanted to grow old with him. I had placed him on a pedestal as my perfect husband and he rarely disappointed me. His death was like a roadside bomb on our compatible, peaceful path -- a path that was supposed to trail off into our future. As Ken descended into illness, and then to death, that bomb obliterated my ability to feel the horror of his impending then permanent disappearance. And so, I laughed, because it was surreal, I laughed because it was absurd, I laughed because I couldn't believe it was happening to me. Mostly, I laughed because I wasn't yet ready to feel the pain that if experienced before it's time, without being meted out in little pieces, would take me down and leave me flat.

I found myself at his memorial service with 500 others, flanked by my six-year-old son and my ten-year-old daughter, saying a very public good-bye, one of the countless good-byes to come over the years ahead as we slowly come to terms with his death, as I came to understand that he was gone, he was dead, and our life together was over. We married with just 17 close family members around us; I had to say good-bye with hundreds in attendance. I couldn't feel it. I couldn't grieve so openly, so publicly. So I laughed. (Probably, I didn't laugh all that much, but any amount felt inappropriate and out of place.)

When you are closely related to the one who dies, you have the honor of sitting in the front row for the funeral, best seats in the house. But your front row seats don't allow you to see everyone else behind you in rows -- the bigger picture: the neighbors clustered together, the friends from out of town, work colleagues, old girlfriends, little kids, clients, friends from old neighborhoods and college days: an entire world of grief. You can't grasp the whole picture the way people in the back row can. All I could do was hold on to my kids, and hold on to every word spoken by the seven eulogists, as if by hearing their tributes to Ken, I could pretend that all that goodness they spoke of was still right there in front of me too. People said there wasn't a dry eye in the house. Well, they weren't looking at me. I just wasn't ready to lose it, and I certainly wasn't ready to say good-bye to him. I guess if there were ever a time I needed a good laugh, that was it.

The rest of the good-byes would be much more private: going through his clothes, cleaning out his office, spreading ashes, holidays without him, birthdays without him, our children's milestones with him, half a bed stacked with newspapers and books, lonely days and nights and hours and minutes of remembering and of holding on and letting go over and over again. It is easier to grasp on to my feelings in these more private moments, little bits at a time, at my own pace.

Some losses are just too big to feel. What I found though, was that I could write about my feelings more than I could actually "feel" them. I could purge some pain on paper without having to dump it onto anyone else. I could admit thoughts in ink that were too hard for me to float out in public. I could read my words and find out what was going on inside me. The numbness I felt on the outside had words that went along with it, and the words were filled with emotion. Sometimes I would cry while writing them down. Often, I discovered plenty of hope mixed in with the sadness, ribbons of strength swirling through my enormous sense of defeat. Perspective and humor were there even in truly dark times. I could tell that though my loss was enormous, all was not lost. I could tell, because that's what came out in writing.

So, this is a call to writing about how you feel as a regular activity: writing as an exercise in releasing, understanding, and coming to terms with emotion. As runners like to say: "all you need is a pair of shoes" and after a few minutes of running, you release endorphins which flow through your body and make you feel happy. I say: all you need to write is a pen and paper, or a computer, and after a few minutes of writing about how you feel, you can make real progress in understanding your own life so that you can move forward and grow.

I may have laughed at my husband's funeral, but when I wrote about how it felt to lose him, I found the words to transcend grief.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Widow Birthday #5; Regular Birthday #49

My birthday was Monday, the fifth birthday I've had as a widow. Birthdays, anniversaries, holidays, milestones of all kinds present opportunities to check out what kind of progress I'm making on the path through grief.

This was the first birthday I've had since Ken died where I feel more good than bad, more happiness than pain, more deep appreciation for my life than that feeling that what is missing is so vital to my being that without it my life is less.

Sitting out on the deck in my backyard on a beautiful June evening, the wind presented a sweet, warm and active breeze. My birthday candle, immersed in a gorgeous homemade chocolate cake made by my daughter and her friend, flickered wildly.

"Ken," I thought to myself. "Is that you? Do you want to blow this out with me?"

But the wind died down, the flame straightened, and I blew it out on my own.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Writing Works. Writing Heals.

Whether you practice the following disciplines or not, we all know that activities like aerobic exercise, meditation, and yoga are good for us. Maybe you run daily, or maybe once in a while. Maybe you meditate on a regular basis, or perhaps just when you feel really extra stressed out. Maybe you have a daily yoga practice, or perhaps you just get into the downward dog on occasion, or stretch before bed. All of these practices are healthy. They contribute to wellness. You don't have to be a championship runner to run. You don't have to be a monk to meditate. Likewise, you don't have to be a professional writer to write.

Writing can be one of the tools in your toolbox for building a better life. For me, writing is a way to transcend loss. To find meaning in my life. To open a path that wasn't always cleared. It helps me make sense of who I am now and where I am heading.

Reading back through my latest journal, I found the following entry from late March 2010. It shows me how far I've come in relation to the profound loss of losing Ken. (My husband had been dead then for four years and two months. I have been writing about this loss for years now, including writing about his sickness for years before that.)

This piece of writing shows me that I am on a precipice of something new. I am moving to a different phase of the grieving process. I am recovering. I am feeling better. I am changing.

Here's the entry:

What the loss of you feels like today:

It feels old and tired, on it's last legs, out of breath, sagging, ancient, exhausted.

It feels boring, a waste of time, a weight on my shoulders.

It feels like a broken record going round and round on an old stereo, in an empty room, with the door locked and there is no key.

It is colorless, soundless, weightless, invisible, powerless.

It has been done before, overdone, redone, reworked.

It feels like ancient history brought to my door here in the present.

It feels unescapable, unshareable, unspeakable, boring.

It feels like a hangover.

It feels like something I need to shake off, shrug off, lose, get rid of, eliminate.

It feels like a curse.

It feels like a blanket wrapped around my face.

It feels like a path to another world, another life, a way out, an exit, a prompt, a stimulus plan, an inspiration, a wake up call.

It is palpable.

It is a work of art.

It is the most significant event that has ever happened to me.


Ask yourself: How does my loss feel today? Ask the same question in six months, in a year, in two years.

Ask yourself now, and find out the answers by writing them down.

Saturday, May 01, 2010

Waiting on the Runway

Your death grounded me,
Left me flightless, stuck,
Couldn't get out, had to stay here
Where the weather was unpredictable, rough.

I sat on the runway
Couldn't take off for years.

Even when it started to clear up,
I found I had forgotten how
To start my engine.
Not ready to fly, admittedly,
I examined the weeds
Along the cracked, cold, concrete.
I searched the sky for a sign,
Tripped, stumbled, lived in
The quiet, the silence
That fell when you disappeared.

Clearing, clearing.
There are several planes in front of me still,
A back up.
It feels like it will never be my turn
To lift off,
But I can see it coming.
It's in front of me now.

Thursday, April 15, 2010


Why is it that just as I have acknowledged, felt, reached a new sense of contentment in my life -- a contentment I have found within myself, ALL ALONE, while planting peas in my garden, or successfully completing a home renovation project, or writing, or not being concerned about whether or not I stay at home on a Saturday night or a Friday night, or a Sunday night,

Why, just as I feel this sweet peace of a contentment with less, with all that I do have, I am then plunged into a deep well of sorrow, a sorrow that skims the cream of my contentment and sits there floating across everything? At any moment, the spark of Ken's premature death can take the picture of my peaceful, quiet forest of solitude and start a little fire raging at the edge of it, curling the corners until it's all just nothing but grey ash and emptiness all over again.

This week I went to Ukrainian village to visit the grand, three story, 1890 redstone apartment building that you bought about 100 years after it was built, about three years before we met, a courageous, urban-pioneering moment in your life as a single, social worker in his 30s. Little did you know that the risk you took back then would become a key foundation of support for your young family living alone without you.

Now I dream of restoring it, piece by piece, this building that has come to sit in a relatively new historic district of Chicago owned now by me who never would have taken the risk that you did. There is peeling paint on crumbling stone, rickety steps in need of replacement, soft brick in need of tuckpointing so the moisture cannot do its damage. I can restore and build upon your dream. I can take something in danger of becoming run down and renew it. You started this. I can keep it moving forward. I am growing stronger though I can still cave in from the devastation of your disappearance.

You were so proud of the building you bought and you loved watching the neighborhood transform around you from dangerous to impossibly hip. Today young people live in the building just like we did....they meet, they move in together, eventually some of them marry. Today I went over to the building to meet with a tree trimmer named Sy. He's going to remove a dead maple tree and trim the dawn redwood that you planted about 20 years ago, and the locust tree that has become simply huge. After Sy left, I met with a young woman who will become a new tenant in May. She's about to begin her job as a medical resident at Rush, and she's moving in with her boyfriend for the first time. She told me they're talking about a ring.

A dead tree will come down. A young woman will begin her career and a new love right here in our building where we were married. I'm thinking renewal. Tomorrow I'm meeting with an architect who knows the area, knows our building, and appreciates restoration work.

I never imagined I'd be doing any of this. Like our building, I've been worn down by what life has rained upon me. But I'm coming back. I'm taking the building with me. We're going to get better. I wish I believed you could see me now. But when I asked you if I should work on restoring the building, I told myself that you said, "go for it."


Take 5 minutes and write about restoration. Or if you'd rather, write about what's been destroyed.

Thursday, April 08, 2010

Tough Act to Follow

You were perfect for me.
After you died
I didn't like it
When people said
things like
he'll be a tough act to follow.
I didn't want to hear it.
I didn't want to close the door
that opened
that first day you walked into my life.
All my denial was a protection
From the emptiness that I must have known
was just around the corner.
It's like a vacuum humming,
a void, a stall, a broken shell,
a dream that can't be captured
upon waking.
Still, I feel a good measure of peace
for what I had, for all that is gone.
As for what remains, it is less.
It is a lesson.
I will be able to live with less forever.
It's a tough act
to follow.
They were right.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Loss Changes You

Life is less now. After losing my husband, I've been stripped, not bare, but scraped and whittled away in places. Edges carved. Excitements dulled. Expectations muted. Passions calmed.

I would like to say that I am a bigger person after going through the loss of my husband, the loss of the best person I ever knew. What I feel is that I am actually a smaller person, as if in losing my partner I am left with some portion of what I became when we were together. With the disappearance of this good man from this earth, my understanding of random misfortune leaves me hollow, my insides scooped out. Anything can happen at any time, good or bad, no matter what you do. I am less attached. Emptiness comforts me. Nothing cannot be lost.

My life has become quieter. I find kindness in less of everything.

My home, my own space, is solidly here. When I come in from the cold, the door closes on known territory. I can breathe deeply from the inside. As if for the first time in my life, I embrace the desire to turn inward.

Why write about loss, you ask?

Every time I do, I find out either where I'm going next or where I am now; the destination keeps changing. At the moment, I'm going nowhere. I'm staying right here. I am not lost.


How has loss changed you? Write about it.

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Grief Changes

Better and better I feel. It's slow, but it's happening. My energy notching up. My hopeful nature quietly, gradually, just re-emerging after the crush of death, an opening to possibilities, productivity, new promise. I feel more patient and calm, less anxious and harried. I am eight years older than I was when Ken first was diagnosed with cancer, but I feel about 30 years wiser. I keep wishing that Ken could know the me I've become. We would have been so great together, today. I know, it's wistful thinking.

In these four years since Ken died, and in the four years before that which held his illness and cancer treatment, everything had to be held close for fear it would all blow apart, fall apart, or explode. Protection became paramount: keep germs at bay, keep frightening thoughts from surfacing, keep schedules tight, keep track, keep researching, keep stress at bay, keep death away, keep everything the same, let nothing change.

Everything changed. Nothing is the same. Everything will keep changing. More will be lost. Eventually everything.

I find this freeing. Why fear the inevitable?

Meanwhile, and as I notice new energy and confidence beginning to reveal itself, grief accompanies me everywhere but in a different form. Instead of riding on my back, it follows now from a respectful distance. Instead of shouting, it echoes. In a crowded room, it's one of the many guests, not the honored speaker. It's not dragging me around anymore. I escort it.

Grief has been my partner for a long time. Like anything and everything else, our partnership is changing.


Describe your relationship with grief. Who is this character that's been by your side? What does it give you? What does it take from you?

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

I Can Get Some Satisfaction

Ken taught me a lot about satisfaction, in so many ways, many of them I am realizing now, while I couldn't while he lived. Nice, right? It took the death of my most excellent husband to teach me something about true satisfaction.

While he was alive, by my side, I didn't need to care so much about satisfaction. He had enough for both of us and everyone around him. I was "content" to be the one who always wondered if I was meeting my potential, doing enough, accomplishing enough. I was often filled with doubt about my purpose. I flustered easily, got excited about what was happening around me. Sometimes the excitement was positive and vibrant, sometimes it was just nervous, scattered, wasted energy. I was always scanning the horizon for the next event, opportunity, crisis. I was alert, ready, prepared, on the lookout for potential trouble. My to-do list bossed me around. I was on time. Not late. Punctual. On deadline. I was seeking the next moment instead of enjoying the one that was before me. Trying to be perfect, and failing perfectly at that.

Ken's stillness, his calm was always present for me. All he had to do was put his hand on mine and I'd get that transfer of warm, steady, calm energy. No matter what he was doing, the task was right. On the phone for an hour with Apple Computer? Why not. Has to be done. Balancing the Quicken account? Deeply satisfying. After all, it's a life task that needs doing. Children fussy for hours on end? Why not? That's what children do sometimes and that's why parents are there, to absorb and deflect. He was like a worry stone for me...make a connection with him and my blood pressure would plummet, heart rate decrease, perspective widen.

Ken lived in his own time zone, a mysterious, calm, cool, rock of assuredness and understanding. In Ken's world, all was as it should be. Things were meant to be understood, not judged. He could get an angry note from his boss ALL IN CAPS and shrug his shoulders. He could run late without sweating. At his memorial service, a friend told a story of sailing on Lake Michigan with Ken in a sudden squall. One of the passengers fell off the boat and as the distance grew between them, Ken surveying the surroundings said, "Wow, it's really windy out here," while turning the boat to retrieve her.

Today I'm the one in the water. Ken is gone, years now. Fortunately, at the moment, I'm not in cold, windy Lake Michigan. I'm alone in a warm Caribbean sea, all by myself, floating way out from the beach. No one knows I'm here but me. The water is clear and body temperature. I want to share this peace the way Ken shared his with me. But it's quiet out here and I'm all by myself. I can't see anyone. I splash every now and again enjoying how it feels and sounds. I'm sending out ripples.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Peace at Last (for now)

Suddenly something has shifted. It's subtle, but I can feel it. I just feel so darn settled, at peace, calm, accepting, and OK. I'm living less and less in fear.

I'm happy with such small things lately: the sound of the furnace kicking in when it's cold and bitter outside; my ridiculous fleece pajamas with little moose on them; a phone call with a girlfriend who really gets me, who I really get; making a needlepoint pillow for my daughter. Watching my son's excitement as he views the sport of curling on the Olympics for the first time, making improvements on my house, planning a neighborhood party, beginning to imagine a future for myself where before there was only the past. Remembering the me I used to be before illness and death too soon made me someone else.

Grief is taking a new shape in a different sky, everything rearranging in blasts and gusts and silences. The absence of Ken is a permanent part of me now, just as those 15 years of being with him will never be erased. Now that his presence and absence have etched themselves through my skin and bones and heart, now that I know this, now that I trust that even in disappearing he remains, I can begin to loosen the grip of grief to cross safely into a place that remains unknown to me even as I enter it. With my eyes open, I still can't see where I'm going. I'm moving slower because I don't know this landscape. This is where I am and I can't be located. Certainty has been stripped from me: the promise of the husband, the marriage, the partner, the way it was supposed to be isn't. There is nothing to do but get up and see what's next.

My head's been down a long time. It's time to look up and imagine the future I never planned to have.


Take a few minutes and write about absence. Then write about peace. And then let yourself imagine the future on paper in words, if you can.

Monday, February 01, 2010

Breathe in the Present, Breathe out the Past

Breathe in the present moment. Breathe out the past. Breathe in the present moment. Breathe out the past.

If you've ever taken a yoga class or participated in any guided meditation, you have probably tried this exercise. You sit or lie down on your yoga mat, ground yourself firmly to the earth below you, relax your muscles, and settle into the rhythm of your own breath. With each inhalation you take in the present, the now, the new, the here-ness of it all. With each exhalation, you let go of the past, the accumulated stresses, the repeated thoughts, the jumpy, habitual ego-mind, the then.

I'm all for living in the moment. I truly believe that it is only in the present moment that we are able to change and grow and continually create our life. But what happens when your present and your past become one and the same?

Sometimes I feel as though in losing Ken, my whole life, present and past has become one long meditation on loss, whether I'm breathing in or breathing out.

I breathe out the past, our years of happy life together, the roll of memories, the warmth of skin and dark nights and real contact, the acceptance and understanding, the deep connection, the humor, the shared world-view, the pain of cancer and cancer treatments, the emotional ups and downs and disappointments, the new profound perspective that only life and death matters can provide, the unexpected turn of fate, the ultimate defeat by death, the shock and anguish and loneliness and disbelief. The less-ness of living solo. I breathe it out.

I breathe in my soft, young, forming, vibrant children, my energy moving, flagging, cascading, circling, my questions, my observations, my creative force, excitement and doubt and belief, hope for what is still to come, the strength of being stripped of the illusion of safety, the raw edges of change and growth. Contentment with what is. I breathe in the present which every day still means the present without you. I breathe it in.

The past is you, the present is without you. It's all still about you.

I meditate on loss every single day, breathing it in and out, again and again and again. I don't feel miserable. I feel alive.

This is Your Moment

What are you breathing in now? Name your present. Give it some words. Discover what you're taking in....

What are you breathing out as you exhale the past? Let it go.


Monday, January 25, 2010

Recovery. Renewal. Reinvention.

I have just begun Year 5 of Life As a Widow. Year 4 brought some amazing revelations that included:

I Will Never Again Have the Life I Once Had with My Husband!

Life as I Knew It, Liked It, and Expected it To Be is Officially Over!

Rebuilding Life at Mid-Life Isn't Easy!

You might think that four years is a very long time to figure out all this, to get it, to embrace the reality of one's existence, but if you do, chances are you've never lost your spouse. In my experience, the pain of losing my husband when I was 44 years old was so great and so traumatic that I've had to hide the truth from myself, and then occasionally let it be revealed one little piece at a time.

Try this writing exercise (my responses are included in solidarity with my fellow widow friends):

After ___ years of living with grief, I finally understand that:

I still want to enjoy my life anyway, even without Ken.
I am made happier by much smaller things than before I lost my spouse.
There is still much to do and much to see.
Being creative makes me happy.
Even though I had a relatively short marriage, it was a wonderful marriage.
Most things aren't worth too much worry or stress.
I am still a lucky person.
I can deal with being on my own.


Suddenly, as year 5 begins, I'm ready for something altogether new and different because you know what? Grief is hard work, grief is all-consuming, grief is a big drag. I'm tired of grieving. It's no wonder that some people just skip grieving completely and head immediately to the bottle, a brand new spouse, or their own life-threatening illness.

But me? I've put in my time and my work on this one. Recovering from grief has been my part-time job.

The tasks during different stages of my job have included: psychotherapy, grief support groups, writing, yoga, running, pilates, self-pity, meditation, excessive dwelling on finding a man, redecorating, renovating, making new friends, and even needlepoint. The great thing about taking on recovery from grief as a part-time job is that you get to design the job to your own specifications! No one can tell you how to recover. No one is qualified to evaluate your job performance. (They may try, however.)

Here's how some of the tasks I've undertaken as I've worked on recovering from my loss have helped me, lest you are interested in trying any of these for yourself:

Psychotherapy: Ok, I'm a big believer in this one; after all, my very own dead husband was a therapist. My therapist helped me understand that what I had been through was HUGE and that attempting to minimize my loss was not going to make it go away. She gave me respect for all I had been through and for the hard work involved in recovering from grief.

Grief Support Groups: I'm quite a social person so I found that listening to others talk about their losses made me feel less alone. I don't like to feel like I'm the saddest sack in town, so knowing that others are sad too, and working it through, gave me hope and stirred my empathic feelings for others.

Writing: I could not have survived my emotional pain without writing it down. In fact, writing is so helpful to me that I can't imagine suffering without having writing to turn to. If you feel emotions strongly, I highly recommend writing them down. For me, painful emotions lose some of their grip after being expressed on paper. As I've mentioned before, solid research has shown beyond a doubt that writing about your feelings is good for your emotional and physical health.

Yoga: I have now been practicing Kundalini Yoga for the last full year. I will admit that this form of yoga, which includes meditating, chanting, and singing, is not for everyone. It makes me feel great while toning muscle. I feel much happier and more settled in my life.

Running: Since Ken's death, I've taken up running just a little bit. I have run three 5K races in the last three years. This is not something I ever thought of doing. It's just nice to know I can.

Pilates: Strengthen your core and you just feel stronger all over. Pilates made me feel so good that it made me highly motivated to improve my strength in other areas of body and mind. My friend who so graciously invited me to experience Pilates has helped me recover more than she can ever know.

Self-pity: If you can lose your spouse and never feel sorry for yourself, you're a better, stronger, person than me. Or perhaps you're not a person at all. In fact, you might be a robot. Anyone who loses their spouse, gets to feel sorry for themselves once in a while. This might lead to whining, complaining, shopping, or being a big, dependent baby. Go for it. Once in a while.

Meditation: I find meditation to be an invaluable skill. You may not want to take it up as a daily habit, but learn something about it. It can calm you down fast. It clears your mind. It puts you in touch with your essential truth.

Excessive dwelling on finding a man: This was a part of my job that I would not recommend to others. We all take an erroneous path every now and then. For those of us in grief, it can be easy to imagine that there might be a fast path to recovery. At least I didn't choose heroin.

Redecorating and renovating: This is a good visual representation of the change you are going through after loss. I highly recommend changing your environment to suit your mood and brighten your surrounding. Every time I walk up my new walkway, or my new carpeted stairs, or gaze at my newly exposed brick, I feel good.

Making New Friends: Nothing and noone lasts forever. I think that the ability to keep on making new friends as you move through life is invaluable. People come and go. People die. But there are always good people around. Find the ones who make you feel good. Avoid the ones who don't. Keep reaching out.

Needlepoint: I joke that in taking up needlepoint I have succumbed to widowhood. But, the fact is, I find it really relaxing. I just hung my first piece of finished work on the wall. My son picked out the canvas for me when he was 7 years old. Now I'm working on one that my daughter picked out. Recently, I started taking a class to learn more stitches. Most of the women in it (but not all) are about 30 years older than me. I bet some of them are widows like me. They make me laugh.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

January 14, 1996, 2006, 2010

Today is my daughter's 14th birthday.
Today is the 4th anniversary of my husband's death.

Natalie was born at exactly 3 a.m. in a miraculous birth (especially for a first child)
that took only three hours. She weighed exactly 7 pounds.
She is a wonderful, sweet, kind, funny, beautiful, easy, insightful child.
I feel really lucky to have her in my life.

Ken died at about 6 in the morning in a hospital room down the road from our house.
I wasn't there. I'll always feel sad about that.
On that day, his death felt like an enormous defeat.
He had fought tremendously long and hard to live,
With optimism. With strength.

Four years ago Natalie walked downstairs on the morning of her birthday.
Alec, who was six, said: "Dad's dead."
Still, the house was filled with balloons.
Friends came over.
We went to a bowling alley.
The girls were treated to manicures and pedicures.
They slept over.
It was a real birthday party for a real girl whose father had died that day
When she turned ten.

Today, I woke up in my bed. It was just after 3 a.m. (the time that Natalie was born)
All the lights were still on in the house.
This used to happen all the time in the months just after Ken died.
I would fall asleep earlier than usual,
Then wake up in the middle of the night.
The lights would all be on, the dishes undone, my clothes still on.
I'd clean things up, maybe write an e-mail,
Go back to bed.
Just like then, here I was in the middle of the night
Fourteen years almost to the minute after Natalie's birth,
Four years almost to the hour after Ken's death.
Wide awake alone in this moment.

I cleaned up. Turned off the lights.
Went to the computer.
A chat box popped up.
It was my niece Anna who is living in Korea for the year.
While Ken was having cancer treatment in Texas 4 years ago
Anna had just graduated from college.
She agreed that her first "job" would be
Being my kid's mother, while I spent time in Texas where Ken was hospitalized.
That was our arrangement for six months.
I don't know what we would have done without her.

I liked last night. Waking up just at the time that Natalie was born.
The lights blazing, the house chaotic, like it was in the days and months following Ken's death.
With Anna there to chat with me.
I thought she was far away. But there she was.
Everything connected.
I felt it.
All in one day.

Happy Birthday Natalie!!
Ken, we made one beautiful girl.

Thursday, January 07, 2010

The Years Go By.....

Four Year-End Lists after the End of Our Life Together

Year One (2006):

I dream that Ken makes me take a rundown, shoddy, unsafe apartment off the highway. He is not going to live there with me. I feel that I have done something wrong and I don't quite understand.

In Shock.
Legal Work.
Estate Planning.
Revise the Will.
Scattering Ashes.
Holding on.
Worrying about my children and everything else.
Deep insecurity.
Pounds shed.
Can't read, can't listen to music, can't watch TV.

Year Two (2007):

I dream of a deep fissure running through the foundation of our house.

I imagine I can fix this by finding a man to (gasp!) replace you.
Go on every dating site that exists.
Actually believe I can quickly find a wonderful husband for me and loving father for my kids.
Return to therapy.
Feel overwhelming guilt that I don't have a job outside the home.
Avoid acknowledging that I have been royally screwed by fate.
Go to lunch constantly.
Enjoy the company of numerous wonderful women.

Year Three (2008)

I dream Ken and me go swimming together. I tell him not to go so fast. He gets out of the pool and walks away. I can't believe he is walking away from me like that. I just can't believe it.

Apply for and get a job; turn it down.
Realize that my work is getting my life back.
Devote myself to my own recovery.
Acknowledge that I need to avoid stress.
Get fit. Get strong. Physically.
Take my kids on a 2,000 mile road trip.
Begin to acknowledge the enormity of my loss.
Begin to feel the social isolation of widowhood.
Begin to feel the stirrings of peace.
Begin to feel the stirrings of hope.
Begin to respect my own strength in the face of this loss.

Year Four (2009)

I dream (or there is) a ghostly presence in my bedroom; a shimmering, lit, human form. There is a flash across my window, and it is gone.

I write about loss. I think about loss.
I immerse myself in experiencing the reality of grief.
I take up the spiritual practice of Kundalini yoga and love it.
Begin fixing structural issues in my house.
Get on the school board.
Fueled by hope, I begin a relationship with a man who doesn't have an ounce of Ken's integrity. Eventually, this is revealed and I finally get it: Ken is gone. My happy life with him is OVER.
Make the decision to travel with my kids to New Zealand next year.
Recognize that I was incredibly lucky to have found Ken.
Admit that I don't know what will happen next.
Let go.

Coming up in 2010....

Topics to include: Loneliness! Exploring new possibilities! Simple gratitude for simple things!

Monday, January 04, 2010

The Month That Won't Be Ignored!

The month I can't ignore, but would like to, sort of but not really, spans two calendar months. December 14 to January 14. This 30 day period is like a contemplative hush occasionally punctuated by a mean and nasty buzzer that is as loud as a carbon monoxide detector next to your ear (with an ear infection).

Beginning on December 14 we have my dead husband's birthday.

Now, you'd think you could kind of skip right over a dead husband's birthday if you wanted to, right? One of the essential features of being dead is that you stop having your birthday. There is no shopping for gifts for the dead person, no singing the dead person happy birthday, no choosing a favorite restaurant and making reservations for the dead husband and his living wife, no being extra nice and leaving all crabbiness behind for your man, no theater tickets, no gourmet dessert, no special, sweet, soft surprises of any kind at all.

In fact, a dead husband's birthday is no birthday at all UNLESS he has an identical twin. In this case, which is in fact the case here, we get together to celebrate the birthday of identical twins which has become the birthday of just one man. There's a family gathering! There's a really nice guy having a birthday! There are presents to open! There is laughing! There is singing happy birthday! There are two children celebrating the birthday of their uncle and the outline of a birthday of their dead father. Now, come on, is there anything sadder on a birthday than an identical twin that has become one man? The answer to this question may possibly be yes, but I'll be getting to that later in this story.

Then you have the double duo of Christmas and New Year's Eve as a single parent and a single woman.

The coping device for this most festive time of year (no doubt for many people other than myself) is to alternate between attempting festivity, feeling genuine festivity, faking festivity, pretending not to care about this time of year, and caring deeply about this time of year. If all this mental and emotional activity exercised my muscles, this would be a month of incredible toning and shaping.

Next up, January 2, which used to be my anniversary, but I have re-named it my "sadiversary."

This year I would have been married 17 years. Isn't that an accomplishment? In just three years, I would have been married 20 years! What do you say to a widow on her anniversary? Perhaps Happy Sadiversary. This year I actually sat down with my kids and watched our wedding video. I looked very happy. It was nice to see that happy face again!

Finally, to finish up THE MONTH THAT WON'T BE IGNORED, BUZZZZ, BUZZZZ, we have January 14, the day Ken died and my daughter's birthday all wrapped into one fine day.

The day Natalie turned 10, she walked downstairs to hear her six year old brother say, "Natalie, Dad's dead." Still, we filled the house with balloons, went to a bowling alley with a bunch of girls, and even hosted a sleepover. (I will be forever proud of this fact, and grateful to my fine friends for propping me up that day in 2006.)

T.S. Eliot, in The Wasteland, declared in its first line: April is the cruelest month. I beg to differ Mister Eliot (but I do love your poem and you are an inspiration).