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.

Friday, January 28, 2011

I Wish My Dead Husband Had.....

Dear Ken:

Even though I am eternally grateful for your being such a truly excellent husband and father during our 2 year courtship, or 13 year marriage and our 10 years of being parents together, there is one thing we forgot to do during the 4 years you were sick. Gosh, we had so much time sitting around in doctor's offices and hospital rooms...I can't believe we didn't put this together.

(Eternal hope for recovery down to the last minute can really screw up one's efforts to plan for the dying part!)

We forgot about putting together the handbook on how a mother can also be a father. This handbook would have had the following chapters:

Chapter One:

Fun activities and Games to Play with Your Son at ages 7 thru the rest of his childhood and adolescence

Chapter Two:

How to talk to your daughter so that she grows up feeling that she can do anything, be anything and feels as though she is the most cherished girl/young woman/woman in the whole world

Chapter Three:

How to Teach Your Son the Secret Essentials of Manhood

Chapter Four:

How to teach your son, left fatherless at age 6, that life can be trusted, people won't leave you, you're not weird because you don't have a dad, and you will somehow fill the gaping hole that is the absence left by your father's death and find fulfillment and satisfaction in your own life.

Chapter Five:

How to ensure that your daughter will be able to trust a good man's love.

Chapter Six:

This chapter catalogues every single parenting situation that I will ever encounter in my whole life and what your response would have been had you still been alive and actively fathering our kids

Chapter Seven:

How to teach the kids that mommy isn't trying to hurt them, annoy them, or trying to replace you by having a new man in her life. Within this chapter you would have written a paragraph on how to show the kids that they might even be able to get something positive themselves out of mommy's new boyfriend because he's really a good, loving guy. This chapter will remind them that you can never have too many people in your life to care about and love you.

Chapter Eight:

This chapter veers off into the supernatural/spiritual dimension. This is where you promise the kids that you will meet them in their dreams on a regular basis and just when they need you for advice or angelic guidance. (Feel free to stop by and visit me too if you get a chance.)

Chapter Nine:

In this chapter you leave the recipes for potions that all of us left here on earth can ingest to take away the acute pain that comes at select times because of your absence: holidays, graduations, birthdays, weddings, visits with old friends, trips, all that good stuff.

Chapter Ten:

Here you remind the children how much you love them even though you left too soon. Uh...you know what? Redundant. Let's scrap this chapter. You did a great job loving all of us. I think that's been done already.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Wedding Anniversary

I did not mention it aloud

this year.

It was terrifically cold that day.

In our dining room

women played recorders.

Tom juggled.

Alyse had a bad cold.

My parents looked sharp

in their great clothes.

Naomi was pregnant;

so was Shereen,

who organized

some picture taking.

Pat recorded it on video.

Susan chatted, whispered.

Mark observed.

Anna played "Skye Boat Song"

on her new clarinet.

Evan announced time to begin.

A famous Chicago judge

Jewish for my father

declared us married.

The littler ones threw confetti,

Rebecca had a new sister-in-law

married to the identical twin of her husband.

Alan and Linda and Paul were happy

not to know

that in thirteen years

this pair (these pairs)

would be halved.

We spent the next two nights

in a beautiful suite

at The Drake Hotel.

Far below

our warm, elegant room

we watched

little cars, workers,

travel north and south

on snowy Lake Shore Drive.

To the east, reliably so,

great Lake Michigan,

beautiful, huge, dark,



Monday, January 03, 2011

I Think I'm Done Grieving...But I'm Afraid to Say It

Is it OK to say this? I think I'm done grieving the loss of my husband.

Oh boy. I'm not sure about this. Just writing the words makes me feel uneasy.

It's been five years since Ken died. In these five years I have dwelled upon his death, worked hard to understand its effect on me and on my children, gone to hours of therapy, attended grief groups, written extensively about Ken, cancer, death and widowhood, renewed my self and spirit through friendship, yoga and exercise, felt sorry for myself, experienced deep pain, sadness and loneliness, and adapted to life as a single woman and single parent. I used dating as a strategy to push away the pain of losing my husband only to find that in being rudely dumped by one guy I finally got it: my wonderful husband was actually gone and never coming back; there would be no repeat of the incredible piece of good fortune that was our meeting and our marriage. (It took about three and a half years to REALLY get that my terrific marriage was over, Ken was gone, and my life had to essentially restart in foreign territory.)

I once read that it takes a "significant life event" to make profound change occur once you've reached adulthood. Well, Ken's death was that event and I am now changed forever. I feel like a different person, a better person, a more content person, a more sober person. The contentment comes, ironically, from truly understanding that one day I will die and this wonderful life and all it holds will be gone. And so, I cherish it more and worry a whole lot less. I am not the same Jill I was before. I have lost a great deal. And yet, I think that I am through grieving. For now, that is. Because my "significant life event" has taught me that there is life on the one hand and loss on the other. Those hands are clasped together. You can't live without loss, you can only decide how to live well despite it.

Yet, I feel bad thinking that I'm done with grief, like I'm not supposed to ever be done. It's a fix I'm in. If I were still mourning Ken's loss and living in the middle of grief 20 years after his death certainly I would be stuck...I wouldn't have successfully managed to accept his death and to go on with my own life. But to believe that I have reached a place where I am no longer grieving? What does that mean?

Here's what it means to me:

I have accepted Ken's death and made a decision to live as well and as joyfully as I can anyway.

I can now think about Ken with primary emotions other than just despair or sadness or hopelessness or guilt or regret. Mingled in there now in equal measure are happiness, contentment, gratitude, joy, peace, and strength.

It will always be painful that Ken died. There will continue to be many moments that make me cry for the infinite absence, the hole, the lost future, the what-could-have-beens.

When someone dies, a common refrain the widow hears goes as follows: "Your memories will sustain you" or "He'll live on in your thoughts." I once wrote soon after Ken died that the thought of living on memories is like driving on fumes. But today, five years later, I'm starting to understand what it means to be sustained by memory. I will turn 50 years old this year. More than half my life is past. There is so much precious material to be mined in those years now gone. I can see that now.

Once again, I can see a future that excites me instead of one that feels hostile, unknown and foreign. When Ken was sick and I feared he would die and leave me alone, I was filled with fear and dread so severe I couldn't live with it without turning to medication. After he died, my world felt as though it had crumbled. I actually had a dream in which the floor of my kitchen developed an enormous crater in the middle of it -- my foundation was disintegrating.

I have rebuilt in these five years a completely different structure that may have more doors and windows. I feel more open to possibility, more willing to embrace change, more able to be just who I am without apologizing for myself, more inclined to see what's out in the world, even if it's unexpected. Loss has informed me: there is no one way to safety. There isn't safety. There's just experience, good, bad, neutral. When you live, when you're not dead, what you get is to experience. I compare myself to Ken who can't experience anything anymore: not love, not loss, not pain, not pleasure. I'd rather be alive to take it all on.

Yes, I think I'm done grieving for now. I never thought I'd get here. It was the hardest work I've ever done, but I'm glad I did it. I gave it my all.

There, I said it.