Craving a little normal?

Ever have a day when you just crave a little normal? I was having one of those days.

I’d gotten in really late, after a delayed flight, from leading another Widows’ Tale Retreat and I was exhausted. My mind was swirling in the stories of courage and bravery, and all I wanted that morning was coffee in my favorite red cup (a gift from a women’s retreat in W.Va.) . All I  wanted to do was sip my coffee from a rocker  and watch the butterflies sip nectar from the last of my flowers. I was craving a little normal.

But if I wanted normal, I shouldn’t have listened to my voice mail because change was on the other line.

I heard a long-absent voice. A friend of my husbands. “Hey, guess who this is?” (He has a draw as thick as molasses but a vocabulary that reveals his Ivy League education so it wasn’t much of a stretch to figure it out.)  “Listen, I’ve been thinking about you… I guess you heard I got a divorce.” (Hmmm. No, I would know this how? None of our mutual  friends  has contacted me since his death.)

Long story short, how many reasons are there for a divorced man to call a widowed woman anyway? And, he’s one heck of a man, just let me say that. He’s one of those guys you don’t easily forget. Devastatingly handsome and charming when he wants to be. This is a man who plays by his own rules, lives a high-stakes poker game on a daily basis, and has the money and brains to usually get away with it (although maybe the divorce indicates that this time he didn’t.). “No” isn’t in this man’s vocabulary. There was a time when this kind of man would have swept me off my feet.

But that was then and this is now. Then, it would have been hard to see past his shiny, elegant facade. Now, my “BS Meter” is at absolute zero.  I imagine you know the feeling. Now, I only want what’s real and true. I don’t need a man who comes coated in molasses and BS. I’ve been through so many changes in the last 6 years I’ve lost count. Like you, I’ve ridden change like a bucking bronco, broken a few bones and suffered multiple bruises.

And on this wild ride, I’ve discovered a me I didn’t know very well before. In the dark hours of waiting, I’ve learned that I’m much braver than I ever guessed and stronger than I thought. I’ve had my heart ripped open in a neuro ICU, cared for the man I loved like a child and  then done the unthinkable and pulled the plug. Death is different from divorce. To quote his words, you “GET” a divorce. Divorce is something you do, death is something that is done TO you.  And change becomes your only constant.

These changes fly at you faster than a middle-school fist fight. And you struggle and cry and wait in the dark alone, clinging to any sliver of light. But one day you find that you have a new normal. Not the one you thought you’d have , but one you have carved out for yourself from the hard granite of grief and confusion and change.

Death is a powerful teacher and it will quickly teach you that change is the only constant. But In the soft darkness of grief, life after death begins to swell deep within your bowels. It follows the slivers of light like a bulb lifting out of  ice at the end of winter. This new life is built from the depths of your strength and the sweet memories of love.


Peeling Paint

It all started innocuously enough. The doorway to my rental apartment needed scraping and painting. No big deal, except that I put It off for a year so it was a bigger deal than it should have been. I went to the hardware store and bought a scraper (because I waited a year) and a quart of white exterior paint.

But you know how these things work. First, if you think back to fingers on the blackboard in school, that’s what scrapers on wood sound like, so the next order of business was to find some earplugs. Fortunately, a local craft beer barkeep had just given me a new pair over the weekend! I went out for an IPA and couldn’t drink mine, until he gave me the plugs, because the local band wanted their music to reach Chicago.

Earplugs in, I went to work on the doorway, only to notice that the windowsill next to it was in even worse shape. So I got the stepladder and prepared it, too. But as the paint chips fell to the ground, I noticed that the brick foundation was also losing paint. Dang it! This went on all day until paint chips lay around my house like a bread-crumb trail.

As I spent the afternoon painting (which is a cathartic experience for me so I’m not sure why I put it off so much) I realized that home repair is a lot like life. We have these places inside ourselves that need attention but we put it off, fearing it will be too painful or take too long or bring up stuff we aren’t sure we can deal with. But when parts of us start hanging out at the seams, the day of reckoning comes. The irony is that we’re always better after we address our hidden selves and then we wonder why in the heck we waited so long!

Are there places in your life that  need sorting out?  The Widows’ Recovery System can help. Visit and sign up for a free sacred support call.


Weeds. Those pesky things that inhabit garden space and grow better than anything you plant. You pull them, you spray them, and you mow them down. It’s a never-ending effort and it often feels like the weeds are winning.

Grief is like that, too. Recovering from death is a daily process that requires patience and energy (things you’re a bit short on as a widow). Just when you think you’re done crying or screaming or staring out the window at a world that doesn’t feel real anymore, grief pops up out of nowhere and rapidly gains ground.

Like the weeds in your garden, grief doesn’t go away on its own, you have to actively tackle it. But you don’t have to do it alone. The Widow’s Recovery System gives you one-on-one support and helpful resources to help you rebuild your life.

Sign up today for your free personal support call! Let’s talk about your life and what is holding you back from recovery.

A Lesson in Vulnerability

Vulnerability is hard for me. I have serious trust issues, especially since being widowed. When your life turns upside down (Which happens when you get a cancer diagnosis or lose your job or someone you love leaves you or, worse yet, dies.) it’s hard to figure out how to get your feet back on the ground. For years, I was one of those self-sufficient types who didn’t really “get” relying on others. But when death came calling I was forced to get it.

But as I’ve mentioned before, I’m a slow learner, so God has to keep teaching me, again and again, to stay connected. As my lessons continue, I’m actually learning to let go and revel in the way my tiny puzzle piece adjoins the giant jigsaw that is life.

God provided another teaching moment just this morning. It was so gentle and tender that it took my breath away. I was sipping coffee on the tiny patio of my rented condo on Fripp Island, SC and relishing the pale pastels of the fading sunrise. Thanks to the bright yellow signs that warn visitors of the dangers of feeding (or finding, for that matter) alligators I knew to be careful in the marsh and shallows. The “Lights Out at Night!” signs let me know I was in a sea-turtle nesting area. I knew sharks and jellyfish were in the coastal waters but I was rather unprepared to see a dainty family of deer appear in the dawn light. In fact, I had to blink a couple of times to make sure I wasn’t seeing things. But there they were: An impressive 8-point buck, a fawn still dotted with baby spots and a lovely doe. With bobbing heads, they were nibbling the tiny strip of grass between the condo and the breakfront. Seeing deer was an unexpected joy but I couldn’t believe my eyes when the doe broke into a slow trot and led her family toward me on the patio.

I had some apple slices so I broke off a piece and tossed it toward her. She ignored it and kept on coming, so I threw another piece, which she also passed up. Slowing down as she taxied onto the patio, she fixed me with a gaze as intense and gentle as a moonbeam, walked right up to me and extended her soft face toward mine. And I knew, somehow, that she wanted me to hand-feed her. Those dreamy dark-chocolate eyes never wavered from mine. I offered her a piece of apple and she delicately received it, and drew her head back a bit to swallow it, not unlike a nun taking communion. And then she would lower her head to my hand to receive the next piece. I threw a few for the buck and the fawn, but she would only allow a few tosses before reaching out again for my hand.

I was blown away by her soft vulnerability and quiet determination. Her tawny, toned body perched like a beach babe atop high-heeled stilts. When the apple was gone I expected her to leave but instead, she stood quietly, her dark orbs gazing deeply into mine. I was transported somewhere by them, lost in their softness. It was unspeakably beautiful. And then, she lifted her head and as magically as they had appeared, all three turned and leapt off into the marsh.

The doe was gone but her lesson remained. She trusted me and I loved her for it. She offered me nothing but gentle vulnerability and I gave her my golden delicious apple. If that’s not a lesson from heaven, I’m not sure what is.

If you’re tired of trying to recover from his death alone, use the link below to sign up for a free consultation with me and learn the 3 things that might be holding you back.

Honor What You’ve Lost

My husband would have turned 62 this week had he not have died from a stroke. That stroke took a lot from me. It took his life, but took a lot from me, too. It robbed me of my plans and dreams.

I found myself baking a key lime pie (his favorite) and grilling him a birthday meal. Only a few of us still remembered his birthday. His own mother forgot (but she’s 87 with Parkinson’s so she’s earned the right, his death took a lot from her, too!). Our son (of course) remembered as did my husband’s sister, who sent a text. (She’s very frugal, she hates to use more than 30 of her 160 characters at a time, so it was a short remembrance.)

Like the other anniversaries that come and go each year, this one threatened me with darkness. Our son had just completed another life milestone and his Dad wasn’t here to share it, and that’s always painful. There’s an exquisite tenderness to a milestone or success our son has that I know my spouse would have been, in the words of his brother, “Obnoxiously proud of.” I can see his lopsided grin now.

The stroke that took him down gave me enough sorrow to last a lifetime. I don’t need or want to borrow any more from it or spend anymore time tripping around in the darkness of my own heart. So I’ve developed a flashlight system for times such as these.

When dark times or anniversaries (which are often the same thing) arrive, I shine my light around and find a good memory to polish up and display. This time, on his birthday, the happy cocktail was remembering the first key lime birthday pie I ever made him.

Our son was five. Birthday cakes are extremely important in the life passages of a five-year old so he had asked his Dad what kind of cake he wanted and he had said, “I don’t want a cake. I want a key lime pie!” And our son decided it was imperative that we honor this, because, well, he was five and choose what kind of birthday cake you want is a sign of maturity and power when you’re five.

So, I dug around and found a recipe in an old Southern cookbook and we went to the store in search of limes. (Of course, the cookbook neglected to mention that you could purchase key lime juice.) We bought 2 bags of the hardest little limes I’ve ever seen and commenced to rolling them around on a cutting board to soften them up. Then we sliced their hard shells in half them and “juiced” them.

He squirted me in the eyes first. #%@! that juice hurt! Then I squirted him, not meaning to. #%@! We both squirted Mr Kitty, our giant black and white cat-dog who was perched on a stool at the counter helping. When the juice hit his eyes, he knocked the 2nd bag onto the floor in his haste to escape the pain. Those dang limes went all over my kitchen. It took the two of us (well, one of us was only five) all afternoon to juice those #%@! key limes.

The effort was worth it, because you have never seen a prouder smile than the one our son wore when he carried that key-lime birthday pie to the patio, covered in an entire can of whipped cream “squirts!” and blazing candles. He stuck it up as high as he could to reach the table and proudly sang “Happy Birfdays to you, happy birfdays to you, happy birfdays dear Daddies, happy birfdays to you!” And then with a rush of words he added, “Me and Mommy squeezed them all for you and I put the squirts on all by myself!”

I can still see my husband’s six-foot-two frame reaching down and wrapping itself around that happy little boy and the birthday pie. Still see them grinning at each other as he let him help blow out the candles. And in my heart, I honor us in that moment. I honor the love we shared that birthed that five-year old, I honor the crazy woman who squeezed two bags of #%@! key limes to make that first, all-important birthday pie, I honor the son who took such unimaginable joy in putting on a whole can of whipped cream “squirts” and I honor the me that never planned to lose his Dad.

When the darkness comes to you, find a flashlight. Shine it into your heart until the joyful moments reveal themselves. Keep shining your light on that memory until it sparkles brightly enough to block out the dark. Remember the love and refuse to borrow again from the pain. You’ve suffered enough. When you honor the dreams you have lost and still choose to live in joy, you honor yourself and others.

Closets of anxiety

Have you ever noticed that when something bad happens to you the key slides into the lock of your closet of anxieties and all the other bogymen come out to play? They just romp and stomp all over your psyche and then when you’re exhausted and have a headache they like down with you to take a nap and worry you some more… What is up with that?

So, we had another storm this week (We’ve been having about one a day all summer.) but this one pulled down a big oak tree two streets over and it pulled down an entire grid of power lines so I lost power. But I lost power just as I put the final word on my editor’s column in the storytelling magazine I edit and produce. Literally, I lost power the minute I typed the period. And this huge (and very finicky) design program was open when that happened. Oh, and my back-up drive died last month and I haven’t replaced it so I didn’t have ANY of this issue backed up.

In that moment when I lost power (and knew I didn’t have a back-up), the bogymen leapt out of my closet of anxieties and started in on me. “It’s going to be a disaster! You mess everything up! You’re going to have to rebuild all of this issue! You’re such a screw-up!”

I remembered the time in Memphis when I was on deadline for LifeDesign magazine and a “sustained wind event” ripped that city’s power grid out and kept it out for over a month. The time in San Fran when I had just finished some beautiful posters, went to trim the edge of one with an exacto blade, managed to nick a vein in my wrist, and blood shot out onto every poster. Other numerous and sundry quasi-disaster memories also leapt forth and within minutes I was a sniveling mess.

The irony is that I’ve worked really hard to take my anxiety stuff out of my closet, examine it, and then therapeutically get rid of it. Every time I think the closet is empty, something like this happens and BOOM, out they come. All the little monsters of memory that I haven’t gotten to yet have a party going on in there I just don’t realize it until disaster strikes. By the time you’re a mature adult, you’ve got a whole house full of anxiety closets! It takes some time to clean those closets out and, just like real closets, some people never get around to it. They just shut the door as fast as they can before all the crap falls out.

But I have found that the more closets I clean out the better I feel. So when this new opportunity to purge arose, I hit back. I processed those little bogeymen memories and deposited them in the trash, where they belong. After all, I lived them once – why live them again?

Widowhood can bring up a lot of anxiety. If you need someone to stand by you as you sort things out, sign up for a free call and let’s talk about how I can support you through the one-on-one Widow’s Recovery System.

Happy Independence Day!

I tried lots of things after my husband died to feel less lonely. Loneliness was a really big issue for me.

So I developed some strategies that really helped but this particular one wasn’t one of them! (click the pic to watch my comedy short about it!)

If you’re ready to move forward in your life, let me help! My new program, the Widow’s Recovery System, gives you personal phone support, an audio recovery course with transcripts, a recovery workbook and ongoing email support.

To learn more about how it can help you, schedule your free call with me.

Enjoy the 4th!

Donna Marie

The Dumb Things People Say…

The dumb things people say, right? Our words can be healing or hurtful. Usually I find it’s the latter. But I try not to be bitter or judgmental about it because I don’t think most of us mean to be unkind. I really don’t. Having suffered through some pretty stupid and painful remarks (especially as a widow), and reflecting on why in the hell someone would say some of the things they’ve said, I find it hard to believe that the majority of those people meant to hurt me in any way. (AND, I have to acknowledge that I have said my share of hurtful things to others, too!)

Most of us aren’t mean people, we just lack an adequate verbal filtration system. We speak before we think.

My verbal filtration system has gotten a little rickety and rusty, so I’ve been practicing the art of quiet presence. I don’t want to say anything hurtful and stupid. Most people are struggling hard enough to get through the day as it is. Hurtful and stupid tend to coexist, have you noticed that? Hurtful and stupid are the Cinderella sisters of conversation. They’re the girls no one really wants to take to the ball and yet they arrive at the party anyway, wearing some garish get-up, perfume that smells a lot like vodka, and too much lipstick and mascara.

I’ve been practicing this art of quiet presence to steel myself against saying anything I haven’t thought through. I want to develop a strong verbal filtration system because I want to be the kind person in the room.

This new verbal filtration system will sift through my swirling, chaotic thoughts and basically shut me up before I speak. I’m designing it to filter out stupid, hurtful, jealous, and meaningless remarks. For example: Let’s say I’m at a party and I see a friend eating her 3rd helping of baked spaghetti. As she giggles and says, “I know I shouldn’t…,” I start thinking about how heavy she’s gotten and how bad all that trans-fat is for her heart, especially at her age and the sentence that forms is, “Whoa! Now that you are post-menopausal, have you thought about going on a watermelon diet?” But the filter spots STUPID, HURTFUL JEALOUS AND MEANINGLESS words and throws the whole sentence out! It freezes me in my tracks so I can think of something else to say, in a moment of quiet presence. This moment of sacred silence gives me the opportunity to think of something helpful and then say the only thing that will help my dear friend her put her fork down: “Do you have any idea how beautiful you are?” (ALL of us have beauty, so it’s not a little white lie!)

Which one of us doesn’t want to hear that we are loved, that we are beautiful, that we matter? When we filter our thoughts before we speak, our tendency is to speak from love, which gives us the power to truly help another person.

This personal experiment has worked so well that I’m totally fired up! I’m going to keep working on my new filtration system. I’m going to beef it up and polish it often. There is enough meanness in the world right now and as a person of free will, I choose not to be a part of that.

I don’t want to be a part of the selective truth, sexist, naked meanness “free speech” program currently in vogue. I want no part of it! (Seriously, has hearing nasty stuff about other people helped you in any way?)

With the art of quiet presence, filtering my thoughts before I speak, I choose to say loving words that bring peace and truth into every encounter I have. Join me, and let’s start a revolution!

A boutique trip to remember

Boutique experiences abound in tourist locations. For instance, my little mountain town has an organic beeswax candle shop, a visual artists’ collective and a dog-biscuit bakery. But this week I’ve been at a North Carolina coastal beach town, soaking up the sun and kayaking in the tidal creeks. I bought a cool pair of silky gaucho pants at one of the tourist shops and shrimp from the dockside vendor. I was so enjoying playing the role of “tourist”. And then it happened. I was eating a fat tomato sandwich when my tongue felt something hard (which obviously wasn’t bread or a fat tomato). I fetched it out of my mouth and realized it was a tooth. (Well, technically, only part of a tooth). Shit.

Great– just great. As I pulled my jaw out to examine the back tooth, I watched my short romantic vacation go to hell in a handcart. It was bad. I could see exposed tooth where the filling fell out, ugh! I knew I would need a crown so I called my dentist at home. He gave me the name of someone in the area and the realtor gave my sweetie the name of his dentist. Then the stars aligned: it was the same person. Even better, this dentist was a she.

Another miracle occurred: I got an appointment the next day. When we pulled up it was clear that this was not your ordinary dental office. The beach-side deck with rocking chairs and huge, bleached-wood frame that held a floor-to-ceiling exotic plant display was just the beginning. Inside, the receptionist greeted me by name and took me on a “tour” of the facility. The décor was all slate and silvery tones with strategically placed weathered-wood objects of art. The bathroom had a faux (I hope) tortoiseshell sink and real hand towels. It looked more like a page from House Beautiful than a dental office. Andy asked our tour guide for an appetizer and cocktail while he waited for me, and she smiled sweetly and showed him the fresh pineapple water and Keurig coffee station. As they led me to an exam room he whispered, “I hope you can afford this, honey”. It was clear that this was a boutique dental salon.

As I waited in the chair with my lavender-scented, heated neck pillow, I heard the click of tiny pumps on the granite floor. A four-foot, nine-inch beauty in a white jacket that said, “DDS” waltzed in. She was beautiful: long brunette hair, a perfect heart-shaped face and tiny hands. (I like a dentist with tiny hands. If you can avoid it, why have hands the size of a meatloaf in your mouth?) After the most gentle exam I’ve EVER had, she confirmed my self-diagnosis: I had broken a tooth and would need a crown.

She displayed a dazzling smile and said, “We can do those in one day, but it’s a long appointment. It takes about 3 hours.” Wow. It takes 2-3 weeks at home, and my dentist has hands the size of a meatloaf! She asked how long I was in town and when I told her just a few days she made the cutest frown I’ve ever seen. “Hmmm. I’m not sure we can do that. Let me see what we can work out.” As she spoke to me, the assistant pushed the button on her headset and queried the receptionist. They could do it the next day.

We’re not in Kansas anymore, girlfriend! Her tiny hands were gentle and meticulous. The shots hurt, but thanks to her tiny hands, I could actually open my mouth the next day. My crown was custom-made without an impression. A computerized cartography system created a map of the landscape of my mouth. It was surreal. My perfectly created, baked porcelain crown is the exact color of the surrounding teeth. It was ready in just under five hours instead of three, but it was done in a day. I was almost delirious from pineapple water and Lidocaine.

So now I’m almost back to normal and enjoying the rest of my little vacation. If you find yourself on Topsail and you’ve got an extra $1,500 lying around, you should check it out!



Oh Lordy! Father’s Day is Coming!

While the rest of the world is hosting bar-b-ques and handing out new pink golf shirts, our Father’s Days are a little different, wouldn’t you agree?

I don’t even go near the card section of the grocery store or drug store from Mother’s Day to June 20th. And forget the mall and department stores. They have those 20 foot-high Dads smiling from everywhere and that overly-made-up cosmetic representative squirts “OdeDuFather” on you when you try to get on the escalator to buy underwear. I wouldn’t go near a mall until the Sunday AFTER Father’s Day just to make sure my son wouldn’t get ambushed by grief, again.

I want to share this “grief container” idea with you. It got me through an early Father’s Day and helped me process some grief at the same time:

I made my husband a Father’s Day card, just like our son did in 1st grade. (I upgraded from crayons to oil pastels but you get my drift…) Then I wrote Perrin a letter on the inside. I told him all the things our son had accomplished since he died and included the stuff I knew he’d be extra proud of.  Then I signed it: I love you and miss you. I read it out loud and then burned it. (This is an ancient practice and very effective!)

Of course I cried all the way through. (Crying is a good thing when it’s a conscious release.)  I gave myself permission to grill and eat bratwurst hotdogs that day with our son, because they both loved those so much.  I gave him space to grieve, too. I asked him what he thought his Dad would be proud of… And then we toasted his Dad with root-beer floats.

Life is never really a perfect picture. So, give your life permission to be what it is. It’s so much easier that way.

The Widow’s Recovery System is here to help you move forward. Let’s talk soon.

PS Don’t keep all the good stuff to yourself! Share this with another widow.