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.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Spring Musings of an Experienced Widow

I don't write that much about grief anymore. Maybe that's natural, as it's been 7 and a half long years since Ken died. The little kids I was left to raise alone are teenagers now. Really good teenagers. My son is taller than me and moving up to high school and my daughter will be a senior in high school next year. Life has gone on down the road and the time when I couldn't even imagine how I could possibly ever be happy again is firmly rooted in the past.

Still, there are little prompts to grief from time to time, only now they are like little invisible, internal winces. Springtime, for one. Ken died in January and that year in 2006 when the warm air started enveloping Chicago and people were giddy with springtime happiness, and everything was turning green, I was turning green with envy at everyone who had their simple happiness, like an intact family on a warm spring day. For me, spring had become cruel and mean. I felt alone, not giddy. So when spring comes around, I remember that sadness and I feel some of it, wincingly.

The pivotal events in our (Ken's and my) children's lives (and for many us raising kids, so many of their pivotal events are ours as well) are just mine. I can't look over at Ken knowingly or squeeze his hand with our shared pride. I guess I'm used to that. I've been a single parent for a long time. Some of those big events are on the horizon now. Soon there will be graduations, college decisions, and big next steps for children who have left and are leaving childhood. I would never have envisioned myself as a single parent, but I am, and I'm proud of myself for managing it and for the closeness I share with my children. We did not let death tarnish our family life.

I no longer believe in a sorrow-free life.

I no longer take for granted times that are smooth. When everyone is healthy in body, mind and spirit, life is at its best. And I notice that and I appreciate that. 

And now, when spring comes along and I feel that little wince, I also feel so grateful to see and feel another spring. It is a happy, giddy time here in northern climes and I am in it and I feel the warmth and I welcome the new life from wherever it pops. 


Wednesday, April 03, 2013

Fighting Cancer?

I've been volunteering for a while at Willow House, a not-for-profit organization in the Chicago area where families who have experienced a loss can get the support they need to heal. After a support group earlier this month, the volunteers gathered to share their experiences of the evening. Ruth, a Willow House staffer,  mentioned something that really stayed with me. She said that cancer is the only illness where the language of war is used, as in "fighting" cancer or "battling" cancer.

Today, I heard those fighting words once more, as it was reported that Chicago's beloved film critic Roger Ebert was said to be battling cancer again. I'm sorry to hear that Ebert has to deal with cancer once again, and I'm also sorry that he and every other person who gets cancer is seen as some kind of noble warrior off to slay the cancer dragon.

You have heart disease. You suffer from a stroke. You get MS or diabetes or pneumonia. But you always have to wage a war with cancer.

The problem with this language is what it means when you "win" or "lose" the battle. Did you lose because you didn't fight hard enough? Did you win because you were strong or crafty or highly strategic as you waged your battle? In losing, did you not want victory enough...or were you too weak to win...or did you choose the wrong tactics?

Cancer is not an illness that only happens to warriors. When you get cancer, you don't have to always be brave and courageous like David flinging rocks at Goliath. A cancer diagnosis is not synonymous with joining the armed forces.

Cancer is sometimes a very scary illness and sometimes just a temporary setback and sometimes it's not much trouble at all. Sometimes cancer takes away your husband or wife or mother or father or sibling, or child. Sometimes it takes you. Sometimes, you get it and you treat it and it never comes back again. No big deal.

Cancer isn't a war to be won. Cancer is a disease. And if you get it, you get it like a cold or the flu or you have it like a broken arm or arthritis or lupus. It can be simple or it can be complicated. But you don't have to arm yourself and put on a uniform like a super-hero when you are diagnosed with cancer. You need a good doctor and loving and supportive friends, family members, and colleagues.

People with cancer may not be especially brave or especially strong. People with cancer are simply people with a health problem. They are your family members, your friends and your neighbors. Their cancer might be so minimal that it hardly effects their day-to-day lives or they might feel depressed, or in pain, or exhausted and anxious. So, let's not give those who have cancer the extra burden of also having to go to war, OK? Let's give peace a chance when it comes to this war-hungry language of cancer.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Widow Takes Wrong Turn

I have kept a log of my dreams since 1991, just after I met Ken who I would marry in 1993, and who I would lose to cancer in 2006, fifteen years and two young children later. So much good stuff in those dreams and scary stuff too.

With two miscarriages under my belt (so to speak), in 1995 I recorded a dream of a glowing presence in my uterus. Turns out, I was pregnant when I had that dream and that dream would become our real-life daughter. After Ken died, I dreamed a giant, gaping hole in the foundation of my house. Hmm. What could that mean? Some of the scariest, nightmarish dreams I've recorded repeatedly through the years involve me driving alone on dark roads late at night feeling lost, being carjacked by scary men, walking along the side of a pitch black road, or driving off the road altogether in a plume of flame. In waking world,  I don't like feeling lost and I'm a lousy navigator. Getting lost somehow strikes at the heart of my deepest fears.

You lose a lot when you lose your partner. Some of your losses are very deep: like losing your best friend and most trusted confidante. When I lost Ken, I also lost my navigator and my traveling companion. I lost the dream of trips we'd take together with our kids or on our own. The idea of losing all those future travels together still makes me wince as I think about it now. I am wistful about all the travels we won't ever take together.

What to do? Still need to find my way in the world. So way back then after Ken's death, I got a GPS which is no replacement for a husband while traveling, but definitely a pretty reliable navigation tool. That device allows me to venture out without fear of getting lost. I've been able to take some good road trips with the kids, feeling confident as I go.

This past weekend, we drove to Indianapolis. My son was playing in a tournament there and I used the opportunity to also visit a college with my daughter. The GPS, as usual, allowed me to get where I needed to go with complete confidence, navigating about Indiana. There we were together in the little cocoon of our car. Laughing. Singing along to the radio. Making fun of the billboards.


On the way back to Chicago I made the wrong turn somewhere around Gary, Indiana in a rotted out looking industrial area. It scared me to the the core, to the point of hyper-ventilating. It was dark. It was raining. The windshield wipers were working away. I was scaring the kids. I was talking aloud to Ken: why have you left me alone to drive around by myself? For a while we drove through a very foreboding and lonely looking beaten down place where I did not see one soul and did not know if I wanted to either. We were in some netherworld that was part desolate industry, part dilapidated residential area, until I found an entrance to a highway which I took and where we were the only car driving. There were no signs, no cars, no lights. I actually wondered if I was on an operational roadway. Dark, rainy, lonely, mother with two kids, lost. Did I mention it was nearing midnight and I had been driving for several hours that day already? Do you see that this was just like my scariest dreams, only it was really happening? Lost. Alone. In the dark.

Then, suddenly, a few cars started appearing up ahead, with their red taillights like welcoming beacons of joy. There was a sign for I-90 to Chicago. There was the tollway booth. I could breathe again. We could laugh again. I wasn't lost anymore. We were OK.  Disaster would not strike. I was jittery and alive. The whole episode lasted 12 minutes.

What am I trying to say here? Our fears can be so powerful. They can feel so real and so immobilizing, especially at night.

And fears pass, like cars in the night.
And then you take a deep breath.
And then you keep on going.

The other night I had a dream about a dead hibiscus plant. The real life almost completely dead hibiscus plant is in my house. It was Ken's and he had nurtured it for years, maybe 20 years. He was so pleased every time it produced one of it's magnificent red flowers which only lasted for a day. But now it is dying and I don't know if I can bring it back to life. In my dream, I saw the dead hibiscus plant. And on one of it's branches, a sweet little bird was singing.