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, 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).