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.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Just Get On With It (Life) Already!

Shortly after my husband died, my six-year-old son said the words that would pretty much mark his style of grieving, so much different than my own.

"This is our family now," he said emphatically, giving me and his sister a big hug.

Whoa, boy! What do you mean? Could you possibly be saying that we must, right now, face the reality of what is right in front of us (three people, not four)? Are you saying that your father is dead and we have to go bravely forward without him? I think that's exactly what he was saying, and he continues, six years later,  to preach this kind of stoic, fact-based, feelings-be-damned approach.

Poor boy. His sister and I were all for grief groups and therapy, writing down memories of his father in a journal, participating in much bittersweet reminiscing of days past, and getting all worked up as the anniversary of his death approaches each year. He really does, I think, find it tiresome. Granted,  he doesn't remember too much about his dad...but still....does he have a point?

I think it's really easy for young widows and widowers to get a little "woe is me-ish". (Guilty as charged here.) We didn't sign up for the early death of spouse or single parenting or having to start all over again, or grieving. It was completely unexpected and out-of-sync with most people we know. It's also easy to stay stuck in the past longer than might be necessary, because change is hard, and enforced change can feel unfair and nasty.


I think my son has a point. This is our family now. This is our life now. This is my life today. Worth remembering. Worth....a writing exercise!


Sentence completions are one of my favorite types of writing prompts for visualizing your own thinking. Take each prompt and time yourself for two minutes while answering each one. There are no right or wrong answers, and sometimes your answers may even contradict one another. It's really a clearinghouse for your own thoughts on a topic.

This is my life right now and I need to:

This is my family now and I enjoy:

The past is gone. What I see in the near future is:

Since my spouse died I have made positive progress and change, for example:

Friday, January 20, 2012

Laugh about Death (Ha Ha Ha)

Grieving is heavy. Ugh. It's such a load on your back. It's all depressing and sad; it makes people want to turn away from you, change the subject, have a drink or drive really fast or eat too much or too little food just to get away from the heaviness of it all. (Ha ha ha!)

The sadness of grief can last a long time, longer than anyone wants to know. When you've lost someone integral to your daily life, especially: a spouse, a child, a sibling, a parent. Maybe you feel like you've got no right to be happy when someone that close to you can't be happy anymore, can't be anything anymore, has to be dead. Perhaps pure joy, silliness, levity, excitement, enthusiasm for your own vital future feels a tad wrong or out of place. (Ho! Ho! Ho!)

Grief changes you. It sucks the lightness from your life and hovers over you like a giant shadow, arms outstretched, threatening, looming, staying put. The shadow can block out the sun; with no sun there is no growth. (Tee hee!)

Major loss keeps rapping on your skull: hello in there, guess what, shit happens! It can happen to you -- again, so beware, don't trust and don't get too comfortable. (Hardy-har-har!)

Last night I had a great experience at Willow House in suburban Chicago www.willowhouse.org, where once a month I go to help facilitate grief groups for children and their families. Usually, a mother or father has died too young leaving young children and a spouse behind to carry on without them. The theme for last night's group was laughter, a wonderful theme, a fantastic departure from the weightiness of death, for people needing support as they heal and move forward past that heavy, heavy load of loss.

The evening was filled with exercises and activities that either had participants literally laugh together (on demand about absolutely nothing in particular), then share happy or silly memories of the loved one who had died. Oh! What a relief to laugh about death and to revive happy times! The energy last night was life-affirming and joyful. I couldn't help but think that the dead mothers and fathers would be grateful for their children having a good guffaw in their permanent absence, and that they would wish for more and more of these moments for their children, and their spouses as well. They would want their children to remember them in their funny moments and happy times, and not for messes left behind or scary moments of crisis. Being dead, they must be thinking...geez, get happy, you're not the one who died. LIVE WHILE YOU CAN!

So lighten up folks. Have a laugh thinking about the one who died. Let the funny and the happy push away that big old ghostly cloud. Put a smile on it. It's not that serious. It's just death and it ain't going away in your lifetime. Laugh about death for a change. Do it frequently. (Snicker.)


Now's the time to get out your journal (what do you mean you don't have one?) OK then get out a piece of paper or since you're on the computer now, open up a new WORD file, and write for a full ten minutes. Here are a few prompts for you to use...use one or use them all, or make up your own.  It better be funny.

Remember five different occasions when your loved one made you laugh and write about it.

Describe some of the ridiculous habits of your loved one.

What did you and your loved one do for fun? When did you have the most fun?

Describe an amazing adventure or vacation you had with your loved one.

What kinds of gestures, gifts, or surprises did your loved one give you or do for you that made you feel loved and important.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Sometimes It Feels Like Everything Will Fall Apart

When it finally hit us that Ken was likely to die pretty soon, hope continued to blind like being wakened by a flashlight following major surgery for multiple gunshot wounds. We were stuck in a hospital room across the country from our home, our friends, and our kids. Ken had been in that room for almost a full six months of stem cell transplant complications. We were exhausted. He wasn't going to get better.

Still, it was almost impossible to discuss what his impending death meant. To me. To him. To our young family. To our children. Discussing it would have meant that it was real and true. Talking about it felt like giving up on hope.

In the end, we didn't talk too much about what his dying meant to me or to him. It was one of those things that was just too terrible to face; it was a time where words just couldn't do the talking. But, there was one reply he gave me that I will never forget, one reply from my husband, a trained and born therapist whose world of work navigated the world of emotions. His words were inexplicable, obvious, hard to grasp, disturbing, comforting and true all at once.

"Ken, what if everything falls apart after you're gone?" I asked.

His simple reply was this:  "Sometimes it will feel like everything is falling apart."

Sometimes you feel like everything is falling apart. When you are there, in that feeling, you can know that you won't always feel that way. Emotions come and go and change. What a gift he gave me. He didn't try to falsely assure me that everything would be OK, or tell me that I would survive or happily move along. Ken told me what he knew from experience. If my life ever felt as though it was ruined, and it probably would, the feeling would not be permanent.


Sometimes it can be hard to imagine you will ever feel differently than you do right now. What difficult feelings are you holding now? Write them out where you can see them. Sometimes you feel this way; you may feel this way now, but it is likely that these feelings will not last forever.

Tuesday, January 03, 2012

The Web of Memory

Nineteen years ago this month, I married Ken. It was inevitable because after we met we were happier together than we were alone. We made our decision to marry while standing outside the wolf pen at the Lincoln Park zoo on October 31, 1992. Our wedding would take place just two months and two days  later with seventeen attendees, all family. I always liked the way we decided to get married in the company of wolves who mate for life.

Many things I'll never forget, like the excitement I felt driving to his place in Ukrainian Village, a neighborhood which in 1991 I had never heard about or visited. The drive there from my place in East Rogers Park, when we were just beginning to date,  was always this wonderful journey on an adventure I couldn't wait to begin. There, right on Damen Ave just south of Division St., he was growing peaches in his yard and tulips in his garden, in a neighborhood where, back then,  anything not chained was likely to be stolen. Once, the iron gate to the yard was ripped right off its hinges, and one year, to Ken's deep chagrin, even the peaches were taken.

Most often when I arrived at his place, I could see him through his sliding glass doors, talking on his cell phone, dealing with one crisis or another in his work in residential treatment for children.  Maybe a young girl had run away to be with her much older boyfriend. Maybe it was a call to deal with a suicidal teen. The calm with which he handled these frequent calls was impressive. Here was a man who could handle tough situations with ease, and with empathy. His empathic nature was like nothing I had ever encountered in my life. He was an emotional home I had never known.

January holds not only Ken's and my wedding anniversary, but also the anniversary of his death which falls on our daughter's birthday. The power of emotional memory this time of year is like a vast spider web, lightly descending and enveloping me.

He's been gone six years now, a long time. His children are growing up without him. His son hardly remembers him. And me? I am doing my best to accept a different life that feels vastly less secure than it did before that day in February of 2002 when we found out he had cancer and my dreams became inhabited with coffins flying through a black universe or vast holes suddenly appearing in the foundation of our home.  Sometimes I wonder if one of the most amazing things about a great marriage is the illusion it can give of a safe, secure world. I don't think I'll ever feel as safe or as secure ever again, the way I did before cancer stripped me of the center of my life.

There's a part of me that likes the way this time of year throws me back into a place of memory and sadness. Conveniently, it corresponds with the holidays, when everything shifts out of the typical work/school schedule and there is added time for rest and reflection. I like knowing that the tears are still there. I want to feel how much Ken meant to me back when he was still here.

Soon, the year will move along. We'll all get busy again and I will need to remind myself that: "I can do this!" "I am not afraid anymore!" "I can handle this solo-parenting life I never expected to be living!" "I am happy!" "I can be a breadwinner for my family!" I will be my own cheerleader, my own motivator, my own engine.

Every Friday night I drive my son into the city where he plays a card game called Magic with a bunch of guys much older than himself at a storefront that caters to such activities. I drive there, I drive back to Evanston, and then I drive back to pick him up. It's a lot of driving; fortunately, one of my pleasures is driving while singing and listening to the radio.   This Friday, my top favorite song ever, Stevie Nicks' Landslide, played as I drove.

Oh, mirror in the sky, what is love?
Can the child within my heart rise above?
Can I sail through the changing ocean tides?
Can I handle the seasons of my life?
Mmm, mmm, mmm

Well, I've been afraid of changing
'Cause I've built my life around you
But time makes you bolder
Even children get older and I'm getting older too


Sometimes I feel bolder. I definitely feel older, as are my kids. I built my life around Ken, and what's left is simply change and how to handle it, as well as I can.

Happy New Year to all. If you're with a life partner, well-chosen, may you truly appreciate what you have and step lightly over perceived imperfections as if they don't exist at all.