What are you really grieving now?

I want to be really honest with you: Your biggest grief is not actually about him, no matter how hard that was or how much he suffered. It’s not about him. You have probably already mourned what he went through and what he lost. What you’re grieving now is what YOU have lost and what YOU have gone through. You’re grieving the dreams you had for your life with him that will no longer be able to come true. And that’s hard.

So, take in a deep breath right now, hold it, and release it very slowly through your mouth. I’m going to say this again, because it’s really important: What you are grieving now is what YOU have lost and the dreams you had that can no longer come true. This is not about your husband. This is about YOU. (Pause)

Let me give you an example from my own life. My husband was healthy as a horse until the day of his first stroke. When he died, our son was 16. Our son was the apple of his Daddy’s eye. The first born son of the first born son of the first born son. And when he wasn’t there to see our son make Eagle Scout, or graduate at the top of his class, or see him get that academic ride to college it broke my heart. At all these big moments, our son only had one of his parents there to see it and it broke my heart.

Learn more and heal faster with the Navigating Loss Program. Only $49 for the book and video series!

This compounding of life losses is so deep, so all-encompassing, that we would be foolish to ignore it. Instead, it’s extremely helpful to examine the other losses we have experienced and to take a brave look at the broken dreams that his death left behind in your life.

Taking a look at your life in this way is a lot like cleaning out that over-stuffed closet. You can only delay it so long before one day you open the door to grab a needed item and you can’t shut it again without taking stuff out. And, it’s not much fun to do and it can take a while to sort through everything that’s in there. But once you take the time to clean out the closet, your heart feels lighter and you feel good about getting rid of that old stuff that was cluttering up your life.  Life feels a little brighter and cleaner as a result. So I invite you to clean out a closet this week. Give yourself at least a half an hour to do this activity

Make a list of five hopes, dreams, and expectations you lost when your spouse died.  Then, sit with the awareness of how much it hurts to have lost those. The loss of these dreams is what you are grieving now. Be gentle with yourself as you mourn and begin to let go of the hopes and dreams you’ve been holding onto from your marriage that no longer serve you.

When you let go of old dreams that will now never come true, you make room for new ones. New dreams are what will bring you joy as you embrace your new reality as a single woman!  

Learn more and heal faster with the Navigating Loss Program. Only $49 for the book and video series!

Free Zoom Workshop

FINDING PEACE IN PANDEMIC TIMES
EMAIL ME TO RESERVE YOUR SPACE!

Sunday, March 7, 3-4p.m. EST

It’s coming up on a year. We’ve been isolating and staying home and forgoing trips to see family and friends for a year now. No wonder we’re all so tired!

For those who are grieving, the pandemic has just added another layer of unhappy to the cake plate.

That’s why I hope you’ll join me the first Sunday in March for a workshop with your fellow widowed women. We’ll share laughter and ideas, and find release from the understanding that only your fellow widows can provide. We’ll end with one of my healing meditations so you can find peace in these pandemic times. You’ll leave you feeling understood, relaxed and refreshed.

Space is limited and pre-registration is required. Email me to reserve your place at this event. I hope to see you there!

Is Grief Holding You Back?

What would he want you to do now?

Grief, shame and guilt. When my husband died at 55, I unwittingly invited all three Cinderella sisters to my pity party. (No one really wants to bring those girls to the ball but they show up anyway, don’t they, wearing some garish get-up, too much mascara and smelling a like gin.)

It’s really helpful when you’re feeling sucked into in the whirlpools of sorrow to understand that you probably have unresolved grief from other losses. These losses are compounding the grief you feel about the loss of your husband and keep you swirling in grief.

Often when you are feeling dark and discouraged, it feels like you’ve lost everything all at once. But really, you’ve been losing things you’re whole life but you’ve probably not fully acknowledged or processed those losses because you could get away with it at the time, or they weren’t large enough to shut your life completely down OR you just didn’t want to take the time to deal with them.

Learn more and heal faster with the Navigating Loss Program. Only $49 for the book and video series!

Plus, our society is loss and death phobic. We don’t want to see sickness and death, let alone grief.

So people say stupid things like, “You’re still young, you’ll find somebody else,” or “He’s in a better place,” or “All things happen for a reason.”

And, make no mistake, there’s a lot of societal support for being a victim, too. And I have found, to my horror, that there is still sexism, even in death. Men are encouraged to quickly remarry, to replace the spouse with another spousal unit while women are encouraged to become the perpetual public mourners of their men. It’s as if our grief makes their life matter.  But as you already know, their life did matter. It mattered a lot to you. But I’m going to remind you now, that your life matters, too. Your life matters!

So what’s different about this grief? It’s too big to get away from. It’s the biggest loss anyone can ever have according to psychologists. But this big loss has reactivated your grief about all these other losses and when that happens, you get overwhelmed and feel stuck.

So if you’re feeling stuck right now, I want you to ask yourself a question:

What do you think your partner would want you to do? Would they want you to give up your life and become the 2nd victim of their death? OR would they encourage you to do what you need to do to grieve them and then rebuild your life? I bet I know what they would say, but it’s your question to answer. And this is one of the most important questions you will ever answer so think carefully!

Learn more and heal faster with the Navigating Loss Program. Only $49 for the book and video series!

Valentine’s Day Zoom Event

It’s the weekend of love. Cards, chocolate, flowers. You remember, right?

But when your spouse is gone, it’s often a lonely day, one that is filled with memories of days gone by. One that seems to make the loneliness of widowhood even more painful.

Because I well-know the pain the day can bring, I’m offering a free, heart-healing Zoom event on Valentine’s Day. We’ll meet via Zoom on Sunday, February 14, from 2-3:00 p.m. EST.

Pre-registration is required and space is limited for this free event. Email me to receive the invitation by Saturday, February 13 at 5p.m. EST.

Is Grief Holding You Hostage?

When grief freezes you it can take a long time to thaw out!

Grief is very sticky, and, as you’ve probably discovered, it’s also sneaky. Grief doesn’t go away on its own. When I lead A Widows Tale retreats I am always amazed to find that those women who have not processed their grief are the ones who are still suffering the most, no matter how long it’s been since they lost their spouse.

It’s easy to become the public mourner for our man, the second victim of his death. I meet women at my retreats who are 10-15-20-24 years out from their husband’s death and yet, to hear their stories in the story-sharing that opens the retreat, their sorrow often sounds newer than the women who are just one or two years out – when you would expect things naturally very fresh and tender.

Because they’ve never processed their grief until they hit the retreat, grief owns their life. These widowed women have given their lives away to someone else’s death. How sad is that? In my family of origin, my father was a pastor and he counseled people as part of his work. But our family motto was “Do what you have to do and put a happy face on it.”  Counseling was one of those things that other people needed.

But when my mother was diagnosed with metastatic breast disease at age 83, and I began to care for her as her life ended, I found myself coming apart. My mom was a 43-year breast cancer survivor and to this day, the bravest person I’ve ever met. She lived half of her adult life with the knowledge that she had cancer so she faced her metastatic surgeries and chemo without much of fuss. I was the one who was a mess.

You see, I too, had lived with her cancer for all of my childhood and adult life but I had never processed that. My worldview was that Mom was the victor over her cancer. So when it came back, I felt its terror more than she did. When she went into hospice, I fussed over every detail, I drove the nurses crazy. Finally, the social worker showed up at the house one day and said, “We’ve discussed your mother’s case and we think you need help processing what’s happening in your life and hers. So, we’ve arranged for you to take grief counseling. Your first appointment is Thursday. We’ll have a volunteer here with your mother so her needs are covered.”

I was speechless…I was in total shock! What? Me, in grief counseling? Of all the nerve! I pointed out to the social worker that mother was dying but she wasn’t dead so I wasn’t ready for bereavement counseling. And he smiled and said, “You’re pre-grieving very deeply and we see from your caregiver’s intake form that you have had a lot of losses in your life. Most recently, you’ve relocated, taken your parents into your home, and changed jobs. All these changes and losses have added up. You’re overwhelmed. We think you need this counseling.”

So I went to grief counseling. Kicking and screaming, almost literally, I went. Only to have this Buddhist monk of a man ask me one infuriating question after another and then make me tea. “How did I feel about my body? Had my mother’s breast cancer affected my own self-image?” What kind of question is that? I yelled at him for an hour that day. Another day he said, “How did your parents feel about your first marriage and subsequent divorce? Are there things from that time that you still need to talk to your Mom about?”

What? How did he know I’d been married before? Oh, it was on my intake form and my mother had mentioned it to the social worker. “Why?” I screamed at him. Why on earth would she do that? So I ranted for another hour about why she was still talking about that jerk when my sweet husband of almost 20 years was helping take care of her? 

But then the day came when I stopped yelling and started crying and I couldn’t believe how much grief I had stuffed up into my body. It terrified me to see it, that’s how much there was stuffed up inside me.

When my husband died at 55, I was very glad I had taken the time to do my grief work over my Mom and Dad. Because I was facing grief again but at least I knew that the danger lay in letting it freeze me over. And the day after his funeral, I began actively working with my grief, allowing myself to let go of it and heal, just a little bit, every day. Because I knew I didn’t want to be frozen on the inside.

Become a patron of A Widows Tale on Patreon for as little as $5 to support my podcasts and blogs for widows and receive a copy of my book Navigating Loss: A Survival Guide for the Newly Widowed for free!

How to Manage Grief

Did you know that grief is cellular? It manifests deeply in your body and affects almost every aspect of your life.

One widow I work with says her grief made her feel like she was being pulled out to sea by a rip tide. Just as she would get her head above the waves, the tide would pull her under again, so much so that she often found it hard to even breathe. She literally felt like she was drowning. In fact, she even called the paramedics once because the heaviness she felt in her chest made her think she was having a heart attack, which she could have been actually, so she was wise to get that checked out.

Other grieving women have described frequent headaches, insomnia, or a sense of heaviness in their body. They feel like they are walking in slow motion, as if their feet weigh 100 pounds each. Some have a sense of foreboding, or an achiness all over their body while still others have panic attacks or feel like sleeping all the time. And believe it or not, all of this is actually normal when you’re deeply grieving.

Grief is not just an emotional occurrence. Grief has significant physical manifestations. Grief affects every cell of your body.

Because grief affects us at a cellular level we have to learn how to live with it, before we can actually live through it.

You cannot run away from grief. In fact, the more times you have run away from grief in your life the more likely it is that this loss will dropkick you to your knees! You have to move through your grief intentionally or you risk becoming stuck in a dark place.

So, I have found that one of the most effective ways to deal with grief on a daily basis is to create and use a grief container. What’s a grief container? It’s a time you set aside, every day, to process your feelings and acknowledge what’s going on in your life. Grief containers are effective because you are giving yourself a place and a time to grieve. A grief container lets you honor what you are feeling. You see, your mind is not going to forget that you are grieving. In fact, if you try to ignore your grief you will almost guarantee that you’ll have a grief outburst at the worst possible moment, like in the grocery store or the bank.

So let’s take a minute now to think about when you want to schedule your grief container. Some women I with like to start their day by acknowledging their grief. They find that acknowledging what they’re feeling that day, first thing in the morning, let’s them move through their day more effectively. Others prefer to do it mid-day or in the evening when the demands of the day are over and they can relax and take as long as they want.

The time of day doesn’t really matter. What’s important is that you set aside a time, every day, to work with your grief. Journaling, meditation, and processing memories of your love and loved one are all great ways to work with your emotions during your grief container time.

A grief container gives you more control over your emotions. When you know that every day at 9 a.m. or 7 p.m. or whatever time you set for yourself, you’re going to deal with what you’re feeling, then you can steady yourself when those overwhelming feelings happen, or someone or something triggers your grief. When you have a safe time every day to release your grief and you experience a trigger, you can say to yourself, “Wow, I’m feeling overwhelmed right now but I’m going to use my grief container to deal with this instead of reacting right now.”

So think about where in your home you would like to be during your container time, get some pens and paper, maybe a CD player, some tissues and just make a contract with yourself that you will spend 10 or 15 minutes everyday honoring your grief. I promise you will see powerful results when you do.

Become a patron of A Widows Tale on Patreon to support my podcasts and blogs for widows and receive a copy of my book Navigating Loss: A Survival Guide for the Newly Widowed for free!

Are You Feeling Disconnected?

One of the worst parts of widowhood is making big decisions when you are least able to process them fully.

You’re suddenly faced with almost endless decisions about all these aspects of your life right at a time when grief makes you the least prepared to deal with it. This is particularly true if the death of your spouse was a hard death or it happened at an unexpected age.

As you know, the death of your spouse changed almost everything about your life. Your predictable world no longer exists. Your life with your spouse may not have been perfect, but you knew what to expect. After years with someone, your life takes on a day-to-day rhythm. Now that rhythm has been replaced by uncertainty.

What you are going through is very hard.

The death of a spouse is the single biggest loss anyone can experience. Men are widowed, too, and they often have great difficulty functioning after the death of their partners (many men handle this challenge by remarrying quickly). But I think widowhood is especially poignant and painful for women because we love so deeply.

We women extend ourselves, even over-extend ourselves, to care for those we love.

At first, you probably got cards and casseroles. I don’t know about you but when those casseroles and cards stopped coming after my husband died, I felt abandoned. (I sometimes still feel that way when I see a happy couple at church or out for a concert.)

I felt like no one remembered that he died, and I that made me feel really alone. In fact, I had never felt that alone ever before. The loneliness was overwhelming.

Just when I needed help the most, I found I was too depressed or too exhausted to ask for it. I was afraid that the friends and family who had been there in the beginning would be tired of helping me, or feel like I should have gotten over it by then, or that they’d be annoyed or inconvenienced so I just quietly shut down and went inside myself to sort things out.

At which point, people just assumed I was fine.

They would say, “How are you?” and I would say, “fine!”because I didn’t have the energy to tell them otherwise. Our son was 16 at the time and I used what little energy I had to take care of him. And, guess what? When I withdrew to sort things out, I disappeared. People forgot about me. I became invisible. Some days I was even invisible to myself.

Being invisible is very stressful. You feel so alone!

So, to feel connected to life again, try this little exercise:

Close your eyes. Put your hands on your belly just above your navel, just below your ribcage and feel your breath lifting your hand up and down as you inhale and exhale. Take 3 breaths this way, deep, slow breaths. Now with your eyes closed, try to see the room where you are sitting. Take 3 more slow breaths. Now in your imagination, walk outside and see the house or apartment building where you live. With your eyes still closed, look up and see a night sky. The night sky is deep blue with sparkling stars and a silver moon. Take 3 more breaths as you see all the stars just where they are supposed to be. All is right with the universe and you, dear one, are made of stardust. Take in a deep breath and remember this beautiful truth: You are a beloved daughter of the universe. As you take 3 more breaths, keeping your eyes closed, walk back through the door into the room where you are sitting.

Become a patron of A Widows Tale on Patreon to support my podcasts and blogs for widows and receive a copy of my book Navigating Loss: A Survival Guide for the Newly Widowed for free!

Are You Going Crazy?

I’ve worked with hundreds of widowed women, from every walk of life, and very widow I’ve ever worked with has felt stuck and discouraged at some point.

Worse yet, they all thought that feeling stuck and discouraged meant there was something wrong with them. They thought they weren’t doing something right, they thought they weren’t strong enough. Or they thought they were going crazy.

If you are feeling stuck and discouraged, here’s a few things you should know.

The first thing is, you’re not going crazy. The depth of grief we feel when the person we have lived with, so intimately, dies, is overwhelming.

When every aspect of your life changes, you have a right to feel a little overwhelmed.

Think of it this way. One day, your world was right side up. Everything was normal. Then your partner died and your world turned upside down.

If your world is upside down why wouldn’t you feel overwhelmed? Your partner died, nothing is the same.

Look at this more closely: Your love life changed, your identity changed (wife to widow, bang!), your finances might have changed, friendships change (old couple friends don’t invite you to do things anymore and your girlfriends might not be calling you either). Maybe circumstances will not allow you to stay in the home or apartment you shared together. Perhaps you find yourself needing to get a job or take a different job in order to make ends meet. Your tax status changes. If you have children, your relationship with them has changed. (Being a solo parent to young kids is the hardest job of all!)

So just for today, know you are not crazy.

Just for today, take a deep breath and know that every cell in your body is working hard to help you get through this transition from wife to widow.

Try this breathing technique: Close your eyes. Place the fingers of your right hand on your belly, just above your navel and just below your rib cage. Take low, soft breaths into this place, breathing in through your nose and breathing out through your mouth. Take fifteen more breaths just like that and know showing tenderness to yourself will help you feel better. Try this breathing technique before you sleep at night. It calms the Vagus nerve, which is command central for your nervous system.

Become a patron of A Widows Tale on Patreon to support my podcasts and blogs for widows and receive a copy of my book Navigating Loss: A Survival Guide for the Newly Widowed for free!

Do You Need a Trickle of Hope?

Click the link below to hear this blog as a podcast!

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Are You Looking for Enough Water to Bloom in the New Year?

I’m a fan of bulb gardens in the winter.

I take vases, antique bowls and baskets and turn them into little islands of happiness to combat the often-dreary days of winter.

Garden stores carry the bulbs in the fall.

I buy amaryllis, jonquils, and tulips. (I’m not a fan of narcissi, also known as paper-whites. They’re tall and leggy, like a twelve-year-old model on the cover of Vogue, and they have a nasty smell. The flowers I mean, not the models.) I know most people grow bulbs during the holidays, but I save mine for when I really need them: those dark days of January and February.

Then they go into a labeled paper bag.

Because as I get older, it’s hard to remember what’s in there if I don’t. Once all the bulbs are safely in the bag, so to speak, I put them in the dark for a few months so they can “harden.”  

When I take them out in early January, they’re shedding and all shriveled up.

They look like a vagabond’s suitcase. You’d never guess life could be coaxed from one. Nor would you expect beauty to spring up from something so ugly. I grow my bulb gardens in river rock instead of soil, so their roots have something to cling to as they reach for the light. It keeps them from falling over and scaring the cat.

The secret to growing a bulb garden is water.

Careful watering is the secret to growing a beautiful bloom from a shriveled bulb.

Too much water and the bulbs will rot. Too little and they won’t have enough energy to bloom. But place just a trickle of water under their “feet,” and new roots begin to emerge. Then a shoot of green will force its way up to the light.

A bulb has everything it needs to bloom deep inside itself.

That’s why it doesn’t need soil, or even sunlight. Bulbs store the summer sun so they can be ready to bloom again. A bulb is nature’s most masterful solar battery.

But this year, I’m feeling like a shriveled up bulb.

I think that’s understandable. It’s been a darker winter than usual, hasn’t it. The pandemic, again, kept us from family and holiday celebrations. From meals with friends and worship. Lord, how I miss worship.

We run around like masked bandits, trying to stay at a safe distance from people we barely recognize anymore. It’s so easy to get dried out from loneliness and the unending caution. Yet we dare not stop our vigilance now. The virus is still winning and our vaccines are a springtime hope. There’s a lot of suffering left to endure.

But it’s the New Year!

The New Year! A traditional time of rebirth; a time to try on something new, kick an old habit, take that new job. It’s time to bloom!

You’re more ready than you think!

Deep inside, you already have what you need to bloom. The trick is to find the situations and people that will give you the right amount of water.

Not everyone helps you bloom.

Some people give you so much water you begin to rot inside. (Have you ever seen a Helicopter Parent in action?) Others are too stingy, offering little or no encouragement or, worse yet, they belittle your possibility. 

But then there are people who truly believe in you.

It’s as if they know exactly how much watering you need! Somehow, they can see inside your leathery shell and they know you’re ready to burst. And they know that when you do, you’ll be amazing.

Yes, some people trickle just the right amount of water at your feet.

I’ve found the kinds of people who care about your blooming (which is not ALWAYS the same as caring about you) watch to see when you’re thirsty. They notice your droopy leaves. They have this way of providing encouragement at just the right time, in just the right way.

Places and situations can help us find the right trickle of water, too.

I often pass mountain streams in the highlands on my walk. Some have a kind of sweet, wild music that fills the air as I pass. They make me feel like blooming! Because there they are, way up a mountain pass, where no one can hear them, singing for no other reason than the fact that they can.

What songs does your heart long to sing?

In this New Year, how much water do you need?

Are you thirsty for friendliness after the animosity of the election rhetoric? Time to get off Facebook. Do you need an encouraging new friend or perhaps a savvy mentor? Or, would quiet bring just the right amount of water to your life? Perhaps you’d enjoy solitude on a hiking trail or maybe you’d like to get lost among the species in an arboretum? Is there a book that would water your thirsty soul? If so, why not buy it?

You are a rare creature.

You bloom best when gently watered. In a New Year when winter’s darkness may press upon us as never before, I invite you to find the trickle of water you need so that your life can burst forth and be made new again!

Surviving the Holidays, Part Two

On my first New Years’ without my husband. I was so exhausted from mak- ing it through Christmas without a meltdown that I didn’t think too much about New Years’. That was a big mistake, because my husband’s first massive stroke happened that night. (Both my son and I can replay
the night of his Dad’s first stroke like we’re watching a horror movie in slow motion).

Instead of doing my grief container work that morning, I made the mistake of getting up early and fussing with fancy food, so we could watch the Rose Bowl parade. Our son slept in, and I was already tired when he got up. Then we couldn’t find the right channel to stream the parade. (He was only watching it to please me.) One thing led to another, we argued, we spent time apart. Then evening came, and memories from the year before hit us both like an atom bomb, separately.

You might remember me saying that while my husband didn’t do housework, he wanted to clean the house and do the laundry the night of his first stroke. My son and I were swirling in memories from the year before and when I casually asked him if he needed to do his laundry, the roof caved in.

It was a grief-trigger that I should have seen coming. But I hadn’t thought about how to honor us that day; I didn’t have a plan. Before I knew it, we were both gut-punched by grief, and so emotionally raw we couldn’t understand or support each other. I felt stupid about the laundry thing; he was angry with me for triggering his grief. We fled to our separate rooms (after deciding not to kill each other!). In the heat of that moment, I thought I’d lost my son, too.

This story is another example of the explosive power that holidays can have.

In addition to helping you keep your cool in front of friends, relatives, and co-workers, pre-planning lets you celebrate the holidays in meaningful ways. A well-laid plan honors the intense emotions you may feel on that day while also letting you celebrate the day with a sense of safety.

If you want to celebrate Christmas or New Years with others, contact the people you want to be with and get a plan going. It’s a horrible feeling to be alone and waiting for an invitation to celebrate a holiday. Decide who you want to be with on those occasions, and call them to make arrangements. (Remember to make your gathering small this year because of COVID.) If you decide to host a holiday, take it easy on yourself. You get the place ready and let the others bring everything else. Everyone loves a potluck! You can provide the space, and others can bring food. It’s easy and often very comforting!

Here’s the most important thing: Make sure you begin and end each of these days in your own grief container time. Private grief time is how you will prevent grief bursts during the day. When you work with your emotions before the day gets going, you’re less likely to be ambushed by them. When you have a plan to honor your feelings later that night when everything is over, you can tell yourself, “I’m not going to react to that now. I’ll deal with it tonight.”

When you honor your emotions in private, it’s much easier to enjoy others and have self-control in public. Accepting yourself and your grief by making a plan is a healthy way to get through any special occasion or holiday!

Try It Out!

HOLIDAY STRATEGY TWO: take a piece of paper and write important holiday dates in a column on the left. Next to each date, write how you want to celebrate and anyone you’d like to celebrate with. This is the year for YOU to make a plan for each holiday that honors YOU. Plan something fun to look forward to. That could be watching a holiday movie or streaming The Nutcracker from the internet. It could be calling friends to wish them a happy New Year. (Or all of the above!)