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.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Help Wanted: Just a LIttle

I am 49 years old yet I had never filled my own car tires with air until today. In fact, I asked my 28 year old niece to accompany me to the gas station before I got on the highway with my kids to go home. I was nervous about my big, bulging back tire and I didn't know how to fill it. I imagined the flat I might get on the road, and how I'd be alone with my kids in the evening on the side of a Chicago highway if it got any worse. She showed me how to do it so that the next time I won't need any help at all. So thanks to her for not making me feel like a big idiot for not knowing how to do something so simple. Something that my husband would have taken care of had he been here.

Something else I don't know how to do? I hate machinery and I have a really hard time pulling the cord that gets the lawnmower started. I also have zero interest in maintaining the lawnmower from year to year, zero interest in shopping for a different kind of lawnmower, and if I never again touch another lawnmower I'll be perfectly happy. I'm in the process of completely eliminating all need of said machinery. Two years ago I took all the grass out of my backyard and replaced it all with low maintenance plants, trees and shrubbery. Front yard grass? Watch out. You're a goner in the next couple of years. Cause get what else I really don't feel like learning how to do? Growing grass in the shade. Just not interested.

I felt a little stupid today watching a bunch of relatives listen to me say that I didn't know how to put air in my tires. But when my niece so kindly offered to help, I looked at my father-in-law and said,

"Well, I do a lot of things all by myself."

Married people get to lean on each other all the time. If you're married (to someone with some degree of competence, initiative, pride, or kindness, not to mention love for you), you can partially eliminate whole categories of activities you have no interest in mastering from plumbing to cooking to planning trips to arranging classes and activities for your children. The social schedule? Your investments? Budgeting? Picking up your own underwear? Playing catch? Finding the leftovers in the fridge? Leave it to your spouse. He or she is good at it anyway. Does Mary need help with her homework. Your turn, babe. I did it last night. Johnny has a soccer game? I'm going out with the girls. Can you do it tonight honey? And, by the way, thanks for putting that chicken on the grill!

When people in a well-functioning marriage lose their spouse, they have to be responsible for so many things all by themselves that they never intended to do all alone, sometimes for years and years. Sometimes for the rest of their lives. Some of those things are very big and profound like dealing with your children's emotional highs and lows,  or guiding and advising them as they grow to adulthood, college selection, planning weddings, or facing frightening health matters or important financial decisions.

Some of the tasks you now have to do on your own are very small like making school lunches, driving your children where they need to go, moving a heavy object, unplugging a toilet, cleaning up a wet basement after a storm, showing up at school or sporting events,

or filling a leaky tire.

When somebody steps up to help with something very small, it's like a vent opening up in a lone self to let out some of the pressure that comes from living life widowed, from living or parenting on your own when you had intended to do it in a pair. This is a long and windy way of saying thank you to my niece for helping me with something small today. Many times small is bigger than you realize.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Feeling Better is Better Than Feeling Worse

I feel so fearless in these post grieving days. I feel taller, stronger, more self-contained. The intense sadness left me in this past year, left me alone with what's left of my life, left me alone with a whole new not improved but stripped back life, and amazingly, incredibly, I'm finding that it is enough. It's good. I'm happy to be here. I'm so happy to be here to be able to be a mother and a writer and a friend and a homeowner and a gardener and a traveller and a whole list of other words that describe experiences that I can have and roles I can play.

Five years ago, four years ago, three years ago, two years ago, I couldn't imagine feeling this way, I COULD NOT IMAGINE ever feeling good about life again back when I lost Ken, but one year ago the pain lifted and under it was a more grateful, less anxious, happier me who finds that I need less to be satisfied. I don't know...there's not much to fear anymore after the worst has happened and you've survived. I don't feel sorry for myself anymore. I feel sorry for my husband who died way too young and misses what goes on around here everyday. I feel sorry for people who are sick and struggling and in pain. But me? I'm happy to be alive.

In the back of my mind, I know that this pleasing state I'm in can change in an instant, but until it does, I'm enjoying myself.

So I decided a year ago when the despair miraculously (or should I say, after a whole lot of the hardest work I've ever done to swim through the muck of pain) lifted, I decided that I would just enjoy a year of feeling good. I'd revel in it. Embrace it. Treasure it. I took my kids to New Zealand, continued writing, started a new relationship, embarked on a major home renovation. It's been a very good year.

And OK, you can shoot me, you can call me a Pollyanna or a freak or some kind of deluded chick on happy pills, but I think my life is going to get even better in this next year and here's why:

I am finding work that I love to do, work that doesn't feel like work, that I believe can really cause positive change in the world. It's nothing huge and impressive, but in this last year I've found two different volunteer gigs that I believe in completely.  And what this tells me is that even though a part of me died when Ken died, (perhaps it was the part that believed in safety and security and fairytale endings) there is a new part of me growing today. It's reaching and extending into new worlds. I don't know where I'd be today if Ken were still alive, I don't know what I'd be doing or how satisfied I'd be feeling with my life. But I know that even though he left me cut and broken or maybe even because he did, from that place a flower is growing. It's just a flower. But it's pretty and I like it.

He was such a good man. I wish he could see me feeling better again.


Before I felt better, I went through a stage of feeling guilty about feeling better. Better is better without the guilt.

Are you lucky enough or have you travelled far enough to feel better after loss? Or do you feel like you'll never feel good again? Do you feel better but have a hard time admitting it because it feels disloyal to the one who died?

Take 5 minutes and write on the topic of feeling better...whether you do or not.

Thursday, May 05, 2011

Here's Why You're Going to Be OK.

My neighbor Marguerite died on Monday of cancer. She was 57 years old. I didn't find out until Tuesday morning around 8 a.m. Two hours later I got in my car to go to Pilates class and blew right through a stop sign and almost crashed right into another car. I was able to stop about 2 inches before hitting metal. I wasn't thinking about the road I was on or the fast moving steel I was driving; I was thinking about how I had just seen Marguerite the day before, and how sad I felt to think of Rob at the very, very beginning of the long road of recovery from the loss of a spouse.

Rob and Marguerite were a very romantic couple, very obviously completely in love with one another. In the 15 years that I have lived across the street from them, I had only seen them display love, affection and contentment with one another. Ugh. How will Rob manage without his beloved Marguerite: gardener extraordinaire, gourmet cook, feisty business woman, full-spirited lover of life and woman of distinctive manner and grace?

I think Rob is going to be OK, and here's why:

He had a wonderful marriage and he knows it. He knows that he loved well and was loved well in return.

When Marguerite experienced a recurrence of breast cancer in 2009, twelve years after her first bout with it, I never saw either of them show bitterness, anger or denial. They were accepting and hopeful.

Rob knows how to laugh. He knows that perspective and humor can take the rough glass edges off of pain and sorrow.

He is already reaching out to others. He's open to the abundant support that is ready and waiting for him.

He knows that despite the incredible loss he's just experienced, he was incredibly lucky to have had a wonderful marriage.


It is painful for me to think about Rob being at the very beginning of his loss when I know so well how long the journey to renewed happiness can be. But at the same time, I feel like I just know that he'll be OK.  I remember very well how I promised myself five years ago that I would not let Ken's death destroy me. I knew I would have to overcome the loss of him and our marriage so that I could honor the life that I was so lucky to have.

What about you? Do you know that you'll be OK? How do you know it?

Take 5 minutes to write about why you know you're going to be all right. Even if you have doubts, this is the time to be confident. Remind yourself of your strength. Let your words remind you of your resilience.