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, June 23, 2011

Have I told you that my husband died?

I can't stop myself from telling people my husband died. Now what's that all about? Ken died five and a half years ago, yet I haven't reached the point yet where I can keep it to myself. I'm like a little parrot: my husband died, my husband died, my husband died. It's like a verbal tic; it has to come out. It's the fact that must be known.

I will say that I have improved in this regard. I rarely tell total strangers anymore while standing in line at the post office and I don't open my window and shout it out into the neighborhood at random moments. Still, if I were to just meet you, and if we were to exchange words leading into a conversation, you might find out that I am currently doing a lot of work for a brand new experimental library, I have two children, I love to write, and, well, my husband died five years ago.

My eyes are blue, my hair is gray, I grew up in Canada, and my husband died when I was 44 leaving me the only parent of two young children.

The other day I was driving around doing some work with three women who I've met within the last three months or so. The conversation turned to the tornado warning we'd experienced the night before here in Chicago. Well, here was a perfect opportunity for me to mention that when my late husband had been at MD Anderson in Houston for his second stem cell transplant in 2005, we were there for both Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Rita. Just can't stop myself from bringing it up.

So here's the thing: I'm quite happy now. My health is excellent. I have a very lovely boyfriend, I feel like I'm doing a great job raising my kids, I love where I live, I'm doing work I enjoy. My friends and neighbors are wonderful. I am no longer in misery or drowning in grief. I'm having a good time.

my husband died.

It's as if I still can't really believe it happened.
When I talk about it, I keep some of our story alive.
He's dead, but what happened to us is so real and so present for me.
Don't you think for a moment when you see me happy that I have forgotten him.
He died. I remember that every day, again.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

For Ken on Father's Day, 2011

Hi Ken,

It's Father's Day. Yesterday Natalie and I watched Alec get on a bus to go to camp for the next 4 weeks. It was hard to let him go, but I know how much he enjoys exercising his independence out there in the Northwoods. He is a handsome, passionate, deeply intelligent twelve year old boy. Last time you saw him he was six years old. Now he's a vegetarian who believes human beings are really mucking up the planet in a selfish manner. I'm sure you could have recruited him to put rude post-its on SUVs with you. He likes to listen to Stephen Hawking talking about the universe and he likes listening to the Beatles. He soaks up facts and general knowledge like a sponge. Good in every subject. You guys would have had fun zoning out on TV sports and the IPad together I'm sure. The other day he was teaching me the ins and outs of catching and pitching. He's a good teacher. He's incredibly good at math and games of strategy. He's never forgotten your teaching him to play poker. Now he just needs to find someone to play with him.  Too bad Natalie and I cannot play chess with him or any game of strategy. He can beat us cold, every time.  We are no challenge. He has a really great sense of humor. Despises injustice. Seeks fairness. Gets mad. He loves me. He loves Natalie. Still gives big,  hard hugs. He has a hard time remembering you. What can I say? You would love him. He would  love you. I don't know how losing you has altered his life, but I know it has, forever.

Natalie? Your little ten year old girl? She's just as sweet and kind and easy as she ever was, and now she's 15. She's beautiful, gentle, patient, thoughtful, understanding. She has your temperament. But there's some funny little Lucille Ball-like comedian in there too. She's in high school Ken. Diligent, hard-working, responsible. Tutoring handicapped kids, doing community service projects, and active on the Green (Environmental) Team. Next year she's chairing the Soup Kitchen committee. She wants to be a teen facilitator at Willow House where I am helping to facilitate grief groups for children or adults. I bet she'll do that training this year. She also loves theater and did a program at ETHS called Theater for Social Change where high school kids get together to discuss difficult topics like racism within the school, and then act them out. She's brave Ken. She's also a leader. A quiet, behind-the-scenes leader. She knows who she is. She's mature. Guess what? She's encouraging me to compost. I stopped after you died, but composting lives on in Natalie's environmentally sensitive person. So I guess we'll start that up again. Natalie remembers you well. What can I say? You would love her. She would love you. I don't know how losing you has altered her life, but I know it has, forever.

We don't like Father's Day as much anymore. But we love you still, and always.

Wednesday, June 08, 2011

Twelve Tips for Widows Feeling Down

1. Ask someone to do something for you. I think people really like to help each other; often, they just don't know what the hell to do. Here are some examples:

Could you please clean my grill?
I want to go on a date. Do you know anybody?
Can I drop my kids off at your house for a couple of hours while I take care of a few things?
Hey, what are you doing tonight? Can I come over?
Would you come with me to this doctor appointment?
Will you help me figure out what's going on with my furnace?
Will you show me how to unclog my own toilet?

2. What is something you actually like doing all by yourself? Do it. Then do it again. I love sitting in a coffee shop writing in my notebook. I also like going for a solo walk around the neighborhood. Even though your spouse is gone, you can still like those things that you've always enjoyed doing alone.

3. Make a list of everything you've done since your spouse died that shows how strong you are.

4. Imagine how your situation could actually be worse than it is right now. I don't know if this kind of thinking works for everyone, but I find it helpful to know that I do not live in a mud hut in an impoverished, war torn nation.

5. Do you know anyone who really makes you laugh hard? Try to get together with that person more often.

6. Rent TV show series on DVDs. Start watching from season one until the very last season. Since my husband died,  I finished the Sopranos without him (we started it together), and then I moved on to Six Feet Under, Project Runway, In Treatment, The Gilmore Girls, Mad Men, and currently watching Friday Night Lights. If you find a series you like, it's a reliable way to be happily entertained. Plus, the people in the series start to feel a little bit like friends.

7. Pamper yourself. Take a nap. Get a pedicure. Get a massage. Come home early from work. Go shopping. Take an exercise class. You're lucky you're alive so let your body know you appreciate all of its hard work in your service.

8. Have a good book on hand at all times.

9. Remind yourself of who you were before you met your husband. You were somebody once without him. You're different now. You're still changing. But you did have a life before you were married and you still have one. It's just different. It will be different again in a few months.

10. If you are having really terrible feelings of despair, write them down. Keep a journal for this. You're going to need one. Writing out your deepest, darkest feelings can help you move through them faster.

11. Reach out to people. Many, many widows feel as though they have been forgotten by friends or by couples. I think there's actually some truth to this! We do get forgotten and we don't go out with couples the way we used to. But despite this, reach out to people. Feeling victimized doesn't make you feel better anyway. Having a change this big in your life can actually lead to your making new contacts, connections and friends. Give it a try.

12. If you've lost your spouse, you've gone through one of the most stressful life events you or anyone else will ever encounter. Be proud that you've survived. You are stronger now. Be proud of yourself. Keep doing things that will make you feel proud of yourself. A life change as enormous as this one is opportunity for growth, even if you can't even imagine that yet.

Friday, June 03, 2011

Growing Anyway

Call me irrepressibly optimistic or call me nuts, but if I'm going to have to be widowed, I might as well try to make the best of it. In the early days, months and even years after losing a wonderful husband or wife, hurt predominates. I was there for a long, long time. But I hope that for others, as it FINALLY is for me (5 years since being widowed), there will come a time when you can find and make good in the new life you have been forced to create. I had a very happy marriage and I used to feel guilty even acknowledging that I could be happy without my husband, but the guilt is gone now and I can just be happy. It feels wonderful.

Before Ken died, I said to him, "I don't want to go through all the pain I'm going to feel when you're gone." But, I've done it. I've worked it. And now after all my hard work is done, I am finally experiencing some of the reward.

I once read a description of "the dandelion child". The description of this type of child has always inspired me. A dandelion child is a kid who thrives even in the worst of circumstances--like a dandelion that springs up through cracks in hard, barren concrete. 

I used to think it would be unbearably sad to reach a place where I could feel good again. Weird, right? Sad to be happy. Back when I couldn't imagine it, I felt like being happy again would mean that I was negating Ken, leaving him behind. And that felt, at the time, impossibly sad. Today I know that having Ken die,  losing him, losing the dream of being a husband and wife raising our two children together, will always, always, be sad. But happiness can grow out of sadness if you let it.


Here are some good new things in my life that wouldn't be here if I hadn't been widowed:

I really and fully appreciate being healthy and I no longer consider it to be self-indulgent to exercise, go to yoga, meditate, eat good food, or get a massage. After seeing my once healthy husband suffer from cancer and cancer treatment, I completely understand that having a healthy strong body is an amazing gift and something to cherish.

I love making decisions and acting on them without having to always consult someone else. I feel more capable and powerful than I've ever felt in my life before because I have no choice but to make major and minor decisions for myself and my children all the time. It has been quite empowering for me.

I enjoy having a new man in my life who is not a husband. He has his own household and I have my own household and when we are together our time is not spent on domestic activities or chores. There is time for simply connecting and enjoying one another that isn't complicated by household tasks or shared responsibilities. Yes, we love helping one another out, but there is something to be said for time apart as well as time together, and even for time just appreciating what we are creating without necessarily knowing how it will all turn out.

I feel less fear in general. Now that I have survived one of the worst events that can happen to a person, I approach smaller obstacles with greater ease. This makes life so much more enjoyable and a lot less stressful.

I have more to give to others in wisdom, time and energy than ever before. Nothing matters more to me than my connections with others. I feel a greater desire to share what I know and to give what I can.

On the other hand, I am more comfortable being alone. I understand that loss prevails in the end, and I am learning to accept change and loss with more grace.

Take 5 minutes to write about the good you have discovered growing from your loss. Or, if you're not  at that point yet, write about the good you imagine or hope for yourself in the future. Or, if you can't imagine ever feeling happy again, write about that.