Sitting in Silence

I woke to what I thought was the sound of a black bear cleaning out my garbage can but when I pulled back the drapes in my bedroom to take a look, what I saw took my breath away. ­­­­Snow had fallen overnight and already there was an accumulation of several inches. It was one of those beautiful snows that coats every leaf, branch and wire in dazzling white and transforms cars and roadways into mere accessories in a Mother Nature painting.

No one expected this storm. Least of all the National Weather Service that first predicted a 40% chance of precipitation and then changed their forecast to less than an inch of accumulation (probably after some forecaster took a smoke break and realized it was already snowing outside). By the time it ended, we had 9 and ½ inches.

The bank closed early and the grocery was a mob scene of people buying milk, bread, sleds, and propane. The storm caught everyone off guard and threw most of us into survival mode. Some people really enjoy survival mode. They’re the ones who show up at the grocery with a loaded pistol in the front seat in case some mother of six gets to the milk before they do.

As for me, I needed this snow. My to-do list was longer than my arm and I only had two out of the twenty odd presents I plan to give for Christmas wrapped and under the tree. I was in a near panic over the things left undone. What is it about the holidays that makes time seem so short and the life requirements greater than usual. No wonder some people just take a two week cruise. The frenzy is unbelievable.

This unexpected snowstorm gave us all permission to STOP. It kept us from doing much of anything or going anywhere. All the activities were cancelled, no one could make it out anyway. As the snow collected on top of the fence and rose to 4, 5, 6, 8 and then 9 inches I plugged in my Christmas tree and just sat still. The world had grown so quiet that I could hear the gentle rise and fall of my little dog Pip’s breath as he snuggled beside me. (He gave up on going anywhere when the snow drifts were taller than he was).

A holy silence fell upon us all just when we needed it the most.

Reflecting on all this by the warmth of a fire, I have come to think that God’s message that arrived all wrapped in white is this: I don’t need you to do anything, I just want you to be still and lay your heart against mine. Your heart, beating against mine, is the reason for the season sweet child of mine.

If you are looking for loving support, ideas, and resources to rebuild your life now and through the New Year, you need the Widows Recovery System. A one-on-one program that walks alongside you as you recover from this loss.  Your first call is free. Email me for that today!

Feeling Left Out of the Holidays?

Have you experienced any of these feelings recently?

A deep feeling of sadness as signs of the holiday season arrives.
Confusion about what day it is.
A numbness in your spirit.
Difficulty concentrating.

If you’ve had one or more than one of these, join the club. The rest of the world is filled with lights and color while you feel like you’re stuck on the other side of a frozen lake. A “Blue Christmas” is what some people call it. I call it really rough.

The things that used to bring you joy might not this year. Do you ever wonder why? It’s because nothing is the same now. Your whole world has been turned upside down and you’re still trying to right yourself. Your work now is to define a new normal because that old one, the one with him in it, is gone forever.

So you have a choice here. You can embrace the change in front of you or you can ignore it, and hope it goes away. It won’t. I say that because I tried it. It didn’t work too well. Facing the change head on, however, was very freeing and gave me renewed energy for the holiday plan I needed to make so I could not only survive the season but enjoy some of it!

So, do me a big favor right now.  Take a deep breath and try to think of one thing you’ve always wanted to do at the holidays. Maybe it’s go see “A Christmas Carol” or “The Nutcracker.” Maybe you’ve wanted to  volunteer at a homeless shelter on Christmas eve or give Christmas canes to people as they leave church. Or play Secret Santa to a child in need.

When you actualize one of these things that you’ve thought about doing but never have, you’ll create a new pathway in your brain. It’s true. And you’ll reward yourself with a little dopamine and a new way to feel happy.

If you want loving support to get through the holidays and into the New Year that is waiting for you to claim it, the Widows Recovery System is waiting to help you.

I’m Grateful for You!

It’s almost here, the day of Thanks. The one that our commercialized world likes to skip over so they can hop right into the buying season and Black Friday.

But I don’t want to skip over this holiday without saying how grateful I am for you and the hard work you are doing to rebuild your life.

Being widowed is not an easy thing. Grieving and rebuilding your life are even harder. But you’re doing it. One day at a time, one thought at a time, you are doing it. And I’m grateful for that.

I’m grateful because the world already has too many bitter people in it and you’ve chosen not to be one of those. You’ve chosen to do your work and focus on the positive things that are still in your life. You’ve chosen to treasure your beautiful memories and take on the big tasks of healing and rebuilding.

So as this holiday arrives, know that I’ll be toasting you with a piece of whipped-cream-garnished pie and a glass of wine. Because I’m grateful that I have the privilege of walking this journey to wholeness with you.

I give thanks for you and for all the good that you bring into this world.

A New Country by a New Widow

Widowhood is not for sissies. It’s new territory, like something out of StarTrek, the Last Generation. While it’s hard to speak to it, especially at this holiday season, new widow Patricia Sullivan has done a great job of describing the feelings you may be having, too.

A New Country

I’m living in a new country, as strange a foreign land as I have ever
inhabited. Mountainous hills, deep dark valleys, occasional straightaways.

With no weatherman in place to predict the stormier days, I have to bundle
up and be ready for whatever nature decides to toss my way.

A good friend has told me I’m too hard on myself…expect too much too
soon. She says I should treat myself with the same kindness I give to others.
I ask her how long it took for her to start feeling like herself again, even in
small uncertain ways. A year she tells me. A full year.

The weather this Fall season has been unpredictable, a lot of rain, wind
and chill. The skies open dark and wide in a torrent of tears, no comfort to
those of us trying to make sense of this new landscape.

A lot of supposed truisms.
“What doesn’t kill me makes me strong”…
“We either make ourselves miserable or we make ourselves
strong. The amount of work is the same”…

We’ll see.
Life condensed to a day at a time,
sometimes a moment at a time.
We’ll see.

Submitted by Patricia Sullivan – 11/18

If you want loving support to recover and rebuild your life, you’re in the right place. The Holiday Recovery System has 5 slots left.

How Hard Will It Be?

Ready or not, here come the holidays! It will all start with the arrival of turkey and pumpkin pie, closely followed by “Black Friday” which may have a different twist for you now, right?

If you are like the hundreds of other women I work with who have lost their spouse, this day of friends and family encounters can bring bittersweet memories as well as the sharp pangs of loss.

But Thanksgiving just gets the “party” started, right? The Christmas and New Year seasons bring festivity after festivity and it may just be too soon for you to feel like saying, “Ho, Ho, Ho!”

If this sounds like you, if you’re dreading the holidays this year, check out the Holiday Survival program I offer. You’ll receive loving support, thoughtful ideas, audio meditation and idea-generating courses as well as practical exercises that help you think through what would be meaningful (or hurtful) for you this year.

This is a boutique program with limited space so if you’re interested, act now.

Click here to learn more about it!

Lucky Me

This is a test: How many times have people you known cracked a mean joke about their in-laws? I’ve heard too many to count. A good in-law joke is money in the bank for comedians. I don’t think you can be a professional comedian without a mother-in-law joke. I seriously don’t think you can.

But that’s not been my personal experience. My story more closely aligns with the book of Ruth than a comedian’s joke. And I know that I am one of the lucky ones. One of the soon-to-be daughters-in-law welcomed with open arms (literally) and a “Thank God he met you!” hug instead of a “You’re not good enough for my son” stare.

We bonded immediately over gin and tonics on the patio. She made a mean one. She taught me how to make a pitcher of gin and tonics for parties and to this day they’re always a big hit. My mother-in-law was a true Southern gentlewoman, born into tobacco money, educated at a Southern Ivy League college. She was one of the most exquisitely beautiful woman I have ever known. Always put together, always in elegant outfits with just the right accessories, always fit and slim, always serving either her family or the church, usually in that order.

She met both her husbands at Rhodes College (which in those days was called Southwestern at Memphis). The first man she dated there, Robert Montgomery, became her second husband while the second man she dated, Wayne Todd, became her first husband. I know it’s a little confusing, it’s made even more so because both men became Rev. Drs. and Presbyterian pastors.

Wayne (her second love and first husband) was, in her words, as “handsome as a movie star” and she proudly bore him five children. She accompanied him to seminary after spending a year in Austria where he studied Hebrew on a Fullbright scholarship. In addition to being handsome people they were also wicked smart. Now, when elegant and beautiful marries handsome as a movie star it stands to reason that the offspring are also on the far end of the attractive scale. So it is with the Todd kids. Being in a room with them is like being with the Kennedys. They’re that good looking. It’s that intimidating.

Anyway, I married the oldest a little later in life. He was tall with black hair and deep blue eyes (a deadly combination). He was a ringer for Rhett Butler, right down to the mustache, disarming charm, and fearless moves. On our first date, he drove me down the main drag in Memphis, Tn., in a racing Sirocco he’d hopped up himself, doing 105 mph in a 45 and I knew right then I was either going to marry him or serve time with him, I just wasn’t sure which.

Our pastor fathers married us. Talk about your scary shit. “Do you take MY DAUGHTER to be your lawfully wedded wife?” “Do you take MY SON, do you?” (I’m embarrassed to say this, but I was so emotional he had to repeat the question and I’m pretty sure my father-in-law thought I was an idiot from that day on.)

But it was Mother Mary (as I fondly called her) who kept the family love going. At the end of my pregnancy, when I looked like I was going to give birth to a small horse my belly was so big, she told me how beautiful my skin was, that I glowed. (Mary and her daughters never looked that way when they were pregnant. They had baby bumps that went away as soon as the baby came out.) When my empty belly was, shall we say, a little resistant to leaving, she walked to the zoo with me on the weekends and introduced me to her exercise habits. She coached me on the best practices for breast-feeding (five kids = a lot of knowledge) and then bought me nice beer, explaining that Austrian women always drink beer during lactation. I’m rather fond of good beer to this day.

Mother Mary had this way of making even ordinary life fun. She had fun whether it was making hamburgers on the grill or drinking hot tea on a cold, rainy day. She loved her kids and her nine grandkids. But she pushed them, too. Pushed them hard to be well read and polite. Pushed them to be people cut from a different cloth. They were to be well groomed, well spoken, well thought of, well educated. Church participation was a spiritual and civic duty, one to be performed faithfully and without complaint. Mother Mary was the whole package so to speak.

She didn’t talk the talk, she walked the walk and modeled all of that, all the time, for all of us. When she lost her first husband she came to my house every single weekend and we talked for hours about heartache and the need to go on. I made her tea and gin and tonics. When we lost her first-born son to a stroke, she insisted her grandson and I be kept in the family fold as holidays and birthdays were celebrated. I honored her and she honored me and we became very close. I’m proud to say that we were friends.

Then her first college boyfriend reappeared. Widowed and with a flame lit in his heart for her like they were in their twenties again. They married at Christmastime and their decade-long marriage was one of the sweetest, dearest things I’ve ever seen. When Parkinsons snagged her nervous system and began to debilitate her she never complained. When it crippled her and made her drop her food she took it all in stride. She still loved to come over, drink a G&T, and enjoy a dinner with her grandson and me. She was an elegant gentlewoman right to the very end.

We buried her this weekend, on the same weekend we buried her son (my husband) seven years ago. (Why holy mystery has to keep chasing me around is a holy mystery all in itself.)

I owe much of who I am today to this quietly strong, deeply intelligent, elegant, and loving woman. While I’ll never resemble a Kennedy like her children and grandchildren do, she has instilled a gracefulness in me that I am grateful for.

I will always hold her in my heart and be thankful that she welcomed me, loved me, and was my friend. I will deeply, deeply miss her.

What Is Security?

I’ve been on the road leading Navigating Loss retreats most of October. Half the time I’ve driven and the other times I’ve flown. And flying is where this story begins.

It all started at 4:30 a.m. when I had to be AT the Asheville airport at 5:30 a.m. in order to make my 6:30 a.m. flight. When I awoke to the sound of a torrential rainfall (thanks to Hurricane Michael) I saw a text on my phone, “YOUR FLIGHT TO CHARLOTTE HAS BEEN CANCELLED. Our next available flight leaves at 9:30 a.m. tomorrow. Please call….” Really?! My hospice-sponsored retreat was to start at that same time on Friday – in Pennsylvania! How in the @#&$ was I going to get there?

I looked at my watch. I looked at my already-packed luggage. I threw it all in the car and began driving to Charlotte in a torrential rainfall, in the dark. I called the airline on my cell and asked if flights would be cancelled from Charlotte. “Well, probably, yes, but we’re not sure when that will start.” A quick glance at the weather radar revealed that I was racing along the edge of a powerful and rapidly advancing front. I put the pedal to the metal. Thank God the troopers were somewhere having eggs and bacon.

I had to park in the “long term lot” so I could afford to leave and the only available lot was located somewhere in outer Mongolia. But, the good news is that there was a shuttle which I was able to walk about a block to catch in the pouring rain. The lovely woman driving it waited for me. “Honey, I’m not supposed to wait on anybody, but it looked to me like you’d had a hard day.” God love her.

Inside the airport, as sopping wet as wet gets, standing in my own little puddle of sweat and rainwater, I checked the flight board. My flight to Pittsburgh was on time. I took a deep breath, uttered a prayer of thanks under my breath, got my boarding pass and entered security. And that’s when things got weird.

I have dark hair and eyes and my eyes kind of have an Asian fold due to my wee bit of Cherokee heritage (I think…). Well, apparently that makes me appear middle eastern to folks who have never left central North Carolina. Who knew? I was “removed” from the security line and patted down as a terrorist threat. Then I was handed over to a tall, rail-thin, 30-something, skin-headed man whose moments of power apparently don’t come often enough. As I watched him carefully snap on his exam gloves, I prayed this wasn’t a cavity search situation. Instead, he unzipped my already x-rayed luggage and ruthlessly tore  through it.

He tossed my underwear onto the counter and uncovered what he knew he would find: Contraband.

“Well now, what do we have here?” he said as his testosterone and power-syndrome rapidly rose.

He ripped the tops off my watercolor pens and began rubbing them on a TSA memo pad. Now, I know that it pays to remain courteous when dealing with law-enforcement because they have a very stressful job and there really are dangerous people out there but It had already been a very trying day and my flight was leaving in less than 20 minutes.

Before I could stop myself the words, “What are you? 6? Those are  watercolor markers!” flew out of my mouth and that was that.

As I tried to apologize and explain that I lead retreats for women and that’s why I had the “contraband” in my luggage while dropping hints that my flight left in less than 20 minutes, he opened the package of printed retreat workbooks and examined them closely and felt the staples on each one. Then he leaned into my face and said, “Just what is it that do you do again?” And I said meekly that I lead retreats for women. And he says, “Widows, right? This says widows” And I replied, “Yes.”

Well, small world. His mother was a widow. Where was this retreat anyway?

She’d been having a really hard time in the three years since his Dad had died and he wanted her to come. I heard the last call for my flight over the PA so, desperately and rapidly, I said, “It’s really far away and that’s why I need to fly there and can I please go now so I can make my flight? I’m so sorry you lost your Daddy. Please give your Mom this magazine (Widow) and maybe I can come to her town some time and lead a retreat.”

Yes, absolutely. Of course. With tears in his eyes he threw all my stuff back into the suitcase, zipped it and followed me until the last possible moment, to tell me about his Mom and the loss of his Daddy and how much it hurt. I squeezed his hand, ran down the corridor, and made my flight.

While I caught my breath I looked around at all the other people squished into that tin can with wings, ignoring the steward’s safety instructions (and one another). I wondered how many of them, like my new friend in security, had lost someone dear to them and never really dealt with it. I wondered how many were still hiding their pain, stuffing it deep down inside because they never received any help to sort through their feelings, or felt truly heard, or treated themselves with enough compassion to recover from that loss.

And I started wondering what would happen if we just reached out and touched each other’s pain. What would happen if we looked each other gently in the eyes and began sharing our stories of love and loss? Love is what makes life real and loss is what shows us how much we have loved. And our stories are what can guide us through this life we share together on this little blue and green ball spinning in space called Earth.

If you’re ready to claim the healing you so deeply deserve, reserve a call with me and let’s talk. The conversation is free. Don’t wait to give yourself the gift of healing. You’re too important to lose.

 

Do You Ever Feel Invisible?

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Do you ever feel invisible, like no one notices you now? Well, it’s not your imagination girlfriend. It’s a couples’ world and widows are invisible.

One of the biggest challenges of widowhood is this loss of personal identity. For years, you were a spouse, one part of a socially-approved partnership. Now you’re a widowed, single woman and most folks don’t know where to park that.

Well-meaning people often ask me if the death of a spouse isn’t a lot like a divorce. They always point out that a divorce is “kind of” a death. And I always point out that “kind of” a death isn’t dead and that no, it’s not the same.

For one thing, in a divorce, there’s always that group of friends that helps you feel better by telling you they never liked them anyway, that you’re better off without that old so and so. People don’t do that when your partner dies, do they? They don’t say, “Oh, you’re so much better off without them! There’s lots of fish in the sea.” No. they don’t say that.

Regardless of how they actually might have felt about your spouse, people don’t say that. They don’t say, “You’re better off without him.” No! They’re much more likely to say, “Your poor thing, you’ll never find anyone like them.” Which is true, of course, because he was unique as you are. But it’s not a helpful statement, right?

You see, these kinds of statements are just another reminder that you’re alone and people are happy for you to stay that way. I mean, it is the safest choice. Oh, and just in case this death thing is contagious, your couple friends stay away and don’t invite you to do things anymore, in case death is something their husband could catch too, right? Which is ridiculous, because not one of us will get out of here alive and yet.

That’s painful too, isn’t it? It’s actually one of the hardest aspects of being widowed. This sudden abandonment by friends, especially couple friends. And it’s not about you, by the way, because I’ve worked with hundreds of widows and all of them, all of them, have lost their couple friends. And then when you add invisible to abandoned, well then it’s hard not to just go inside yourself and disappear into a fog of depression and a cobwebby world of memories.

Now, here’s what I want you to know, you’ll actually get a lot of support from your family and society for doing just that. There’s a silent expectation that what you need to do is to give up your life so you can serve as the public mourner for your spouse.

Now, men aren’t encouraged to do that. Men are encouraged to remarry, as soon as possible. In fact, I had a widower tell me that every casserole he got after his wife’s death came with an offer. Now, if that weren’t so sad, it would be funny. Right? But unfortunately it’s reality, and when you argue with reality – you lose.

So, how do you handle this conundrum? You have two choices, right? One is to give up, to live in your memories of what was, and wait to die. Not a good choice in my opinion OR you can put on your big girl panties and get on with your life. Since I don’t think waiting to die is a very good option, I suggest Door #2. Getting on with your life.

And the first thing I suggest that you do to rebuild your life is find a new friend. Because you’re going to need support to rebuild your life. So, I want you to think about the things you like to do and the places where you already go. Maybe it’s church or the library. Maybe you volunteer somewhere and have always felt like you could be friends with someone you’ve met but just didn’t have the time in your life right then to invest in a new friendship.

Well, guess what? Now you do. So I want you to take that seriously. You need support for what you’re trying to do and a new friend is a great first start in that journey.

And if you’re looking for serious support, I want you to check out the Widows Recovery System at A Widows Tale.com.

Why Can’t You Just Get Over It?


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I think one of the most infuriating things that a widow can hear is, “Don’t you think you should be getting over this by now?” Which kind of implies that widowhood is like having a cold. A few boxes of Kleenex and two days off work and you should be fine, right? Wrong.

It’s a little more challenging than that. Widowhood is generally acknowledged by psychologists as the single most devastating life event that there is. Two boxes of Kleenex ain’t gonna fix it, I assure you of that.

Why? Why can’t you just get over it? Well, I’m glad you asked. You can’t just get over widowhood because it affects almost every aspect of your life. It’s not a cold, it’s not the flu. It’s not something you did, it’s something that happens to you. It’s something that changes everything in your world. Everything changes, right

My sister used to have this T-shirt with an upside-down cow, the thing was lying on its back with its legs straight up in the air and the caption said, “Really, I’m fine.” That’s what widowhood is like. Death knocks you flat on your back in shock and then everyone leans in over you and says, “How are you doing?” and you say, “I’m fine. Really, I’m fine.”

You’re not fine, you’re in shock. Shock is what happens during a major life event. If you were to be seriously injured in a car wreck for instance, you’d go into medical shock. Shock is a life-threatening medical condition.

If you were injured in that car wreck, here’s how the EMTs would know you were in shock: You’d have low blood pressure, rapid, shallow breathing; cold, clammy skin; a rapid, weak pulse; plus dizziness, fainting, or weakness. They wouldn’t give you 2 boxes of Kleenex and tell you to call someone in 2 days. Heck no. They’d transport you to the nearest hospital, sirens blazing, Shock is a medical emergency. It would be crazy to deny it was happening to you.

Well, guess what? Something really big did happen to you. Your spouse died. The shock of this event shakes up your whole world. How can you tell if you’re in emotional shock?

Well, emotional shock can make you feel jittery or physically sick. Your mind might be foggy, and you might have trouble thinking straight. You may feel an almost out of body sensation or your chest may feel tight. There’s a disconnection from what’s happening, like you’re watching a movie unfolding rather than actually being in your life .

Shock can give you other sensations as well. You may feel anger and want to scream and yell or you may feel like you want to run away and hide. And all of that is normal. All of it is normal.

Widowhood is a life-changing event. So the first thing you need to do is be kind to yourself. If your arm was cut off and bleeding you wouldn’t even pretend to be okay, right? So don’t pretend to be okay now. Your world is upside down and it will take you a while to get it back to some semblance of normal. That’s just the way it is and it will never be the same, ever. It’s going to be okay, but it’s going to be different.

Most grief experts agree that the devastation of the death of a spouse has a three to five year recovery timeline. Grief is cellular and you can’t rush it. Emotional shock is a real thing and memories of your spouse can trigger it months or even years after the death.

So when those well-meaning people ask if you shouldn’t just get over it say, “Well, actually, it’s going to take me quite a while to get over my husband’s death. It’s been devastating and I was in shock for awhile.” Just tell folks the truth. It’s a great way to honor yourself and what you’ve been through.

The Widows Recovery System gives you a coat of armor to help you get through the stuff that comes with death. I want to help you get through it and be stronger after you do. Email me and let’s talk about how the Recovery System will help you.