Having Trouble Negotiating Holidays?

Feeling like a 3rd wheel at family get-togethers is not fun. Neither is sitting at home without an invitation!

You might feel like you’re always on the outside looking in and this is a perfectly normal experience for a widowed woman.

The fact is, we live in a couples’ world and when you are widowed you become socially invisible. People don’t mean to exclude you, they just don’t know how to include you and worry that “you might not be ready yet.”

In our death-phobic society, you represent that which most people don’t want to think about: the end.

But there are strategies you can use to re-imagine the holidays. They’ve worked for lots of other widowed women and they’ll work for you, too. These strategies help you design what would be meaningful to YOU on each holiday that pops up (Memorial Day, 4th of July, Labor Day, Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas) before it arrives so that you protect your fragile emotions while enjoying special holidays.

Learn more about the Widows Recovery System. Think of it as an investment in your future.

What do you want your future to look like?

I’ve been focusing on that question a lot lately. It’s been necessary for self-preservation, because it’s been one of “those years” for me. I’ve had a break-up from an LTR (A “long term relationship” – I hate that term, by the way), some health issues, a surgery or two (make that 3). The old saying, “It never rains, it always pours” really threw its wrecking ball around in my life and I was in serious need of rejuvenation. (I just needed to have cataract surgery first so I could see well enough to go get it!)

My rejuvenation was delivered at a retreat for retreat leaders in a beautiful beachfront home on the Emerald Isle of North Carolina. Thanks to weather in the upper 60’s and a window that faced the ocean, I fell asleep listening to the surf crash against the thin strip of beach Hurricane Florence left behind… a sand bar bikini if you will.

Bless her heart, that poor girl had been through it, too. The beach erosion on the coast of North Carolina was unreal, just a little slip of that beautiful girl’s old self was left. Half the coast was still dangling from its hinges, and the squeal of buzz saws and drills filled the air until Miller time each day. She actually got a huge facelift while we were there, but that’s a story for another day.

As we spent our mornings in retreat, each leader taking her turn, my mind began to unwind and my sleep was deep and long. Fabulous food, guided yoga nidra, inspiring (and mercifully frank) conversations, and long walks on the beach brought yet more rejuvenation.

I wrote words in the sand with a stylus only to watch the waves snatch and erase them in a flourish of froth. I inhaled deeply and wrote the poet Mary Oliver’s question, “What will you do with your one amazing life?” and before I could even exhale, the question had disappeared into the surf. That kind of experience takes your breath away. It righteously changes how you think your one, fabulous life.

Which is actually a good thing, because with stress and violence becoming leading causes of death across the world for man and animal alike, the question of how to restore and find renewal is one of increased urgency. Polar bears are running out of ice faster than we can find answers to climate change.

We’re leaving our kids with one heck of a mess. My son, Mr. Science, says in twelve years (probably less) climate change will be utterly irreversible. He’s pretty pissed off about that and he has a right to be. Take a deep breath and think about that for a minute: When today’s cutie kindergartener graduates from high school, it will be too late. That’s some pretty scary math.

Accck!!!! I hate change as much (or more) than the next person, but this is real people! It’s us: dying from heat stroke, Lyme disease, the tropical diseases borne on the bite of a blood-sucking insect whose turfs are rapidly expanding, and massive storm systems. Imagine how much Excedrin is being consumed by folks who work for the CDC or FEMA. Seriously. They have very scary jobs! Our country has money and boots on the ground but it’s those who don’t who will suffer the most.

Is panic a solution? (Uh, no.) Twitter feeds? No. (No, Mr. President, stop it!) Hysteria and vociferous Facebook attacks on those with alternate persuasions also only add distance to our ability to work together. Our anger actually contributes to non-solutions. Doing nothing or going backwards hasn’t proved productive yet. But meanwhile, meanwhile, the science is more damning by the day. It says climate change is coming sooner than we thought and that it’s way more devastating than we can currently imagine.

But here’s another thing science says: When you’re stressed and freaked out and distanced from everyone else you can’t think of strong solutions! (It’s a brain hierarchy thing and it’s real.)

Rational, deliberate thought and a deep sense of having a caring community is what you need. Caring community is how we survived up until now and guess what? It’s still what we all need, it’s what our planet needs. It’s the only way to find real answers and accept the behavioral changes necessary for the survival of all. Oh, and with 1-5 Americans now taking anti-depressant, anti-anxiety, or anti-psychotic medications we probably need some new answers to the chronic stress that plagues us all, too.

Now that I’ve climbed all the way up on my soapbox, let me finish, I’m almost done, I know you’re busy.

Do I realize that I’m one of the lucky ones? Yes. I’m relaxed and inspired now. I’m jazzed and recharged. I’ve spent time with highly intelligent, creative, and intuitive thought leaders. After time with my tribe, my duffel bag is stuffed full of new things (attitudes, skill sets, ideas). After this time of deep self-reflection, I’m actively exploring new ways to do what I do so I can play my small part to bring about needed reflection and change. I want to do my part to ease suffering in our precious world. But I had to start with myself. Because, where else can you really start to bring about reflection and change?

Life is short, so I’ll return to my original question: What do you want your future to look like? Where will you find the renewal and support necessary to have hard conversations, first with yourself, and then with others?

Think about it, just don’t wait too long. Time is not on your side.

Ode to Alzheimer’s

Many widows have dealt with Alzheimers, a horrible disease that robs them of the person they love one day at a time. This poem was written by Karen Kuester, a widow in Hawaii who is working in the Widows Recovery System. She wrote it about her father. It really reflects the feelings that arise as you see your loved one disappear.

Ode to Alzheimer’s
By Karen Kuester

I hear the silence where there once were words
I want you back to talk with me.

I smell the urine on you clothes
I want your body whole again.

I see the blank stare in your eyes
I want to see the lively sparkle.

I stroke your numb swollen legs
I want them to dance again.

I see the disease eating you away
I want it to feed elsewhere.

I taste death on your plate
I want to order from a different menu.

Be Prepared

As widows, we have to take care of ourselves. We are our own best (and often) only advocate. The idea today comes from A Widows Tale retreat participant and all-around-amazing woman Cappy Tosetti. Cappy’s husband was a family doctor who developed a program for senior cognitive development, which she now teaches at Roads’ Scholar programs. I’ve already put her idea to use, and suggest you do the same! Cappy will be one of our  “Navigators” on the new Navigating Loss private Facebook page for widows. Stay tuned for more on that. In the meantime, this is a timely and wise idea!

“Like a good Girl Scout…..one needs to be prepared. Pregnant women do it……why not an older person? No babies on the horizon, but I will have a packed duffle bag ready to grab if ever I find myself headed to the hospital or rehabilitation center.

Decided today this needs to be ready.

A dear friend was rushed to the hospital last Friday after a serious fall. Yesterday she was transported to a rehab center where she will be staying for quite some time, concentrating on physical therapy and building up her stamina. She asked me to stop by her house to gather some clothing and toiletries. Fortunately, she is a very organized individual …..every drawer is neatly arranged with socks and underwear in perfect order. I cringe thinking about anyone trying to match my socks.

As we age, it’s important to have our paperwork in order……why not our jammies, too.
So Into the duffle bag I will pack a supply of socks, undies, a robe, some comfy clothing, plus a baggie filled with a toothbrush, toothpaste, lotion, earplugs, Rolaids, cough drops, nail-clippers, etc.

This is especially important for those individuals living alone. I plan to label the bag and hang it in an easy-to-reach location……a good friend can grab it in a jiffy. I will also have instructions handy for caring for or boarding my dogs…..with all their pertinent information. And, a list of friends and family co tact numbers. A notebook binder can easily be tucked in with all the items.

Hopefully the bag will never have to be used. But, I will feel better knowing it’s there……ready to go!

Even those living with someone might consider packing a bag, especially knowing you will have what you need and like when away at the hospital.

Being prepared makes sense.” By Cappy Tosetti (Connect on Facebook!)

Release that which no longer serves you.

Have you ever noticed that some days are just more challenging than others? Like today for instance? Often days like this seem bad because they are quietly filled with triggers that remind you of past pain or unresolved anger. Now, once it’s triggered, your mind reaches deep into its big old memory bank of “stuff that sucked” and your good mood just goes blowing out of the window for the rest of the day.

When that happens, you forget who you are. It’s not your fault, but you allow the moment to take over, to move you to words or actions you later regret. That’s on the days when you’re feeling brave. On those “other” days, you may withdrawal into a stony silent place, maybe with a stiff drink. But neuroscience says your mind is hardwired to remember pain more than pleasure, fear more than love because that’s how the human brain evolved to protect us when humanoids were first learning to stand erect and leave their caves.

Of course now you’ve been walking on two legs so long that your 90 days or so of crawling have been long forgotten. You probably don’t live in a drippy cave or whack a hoofed animal over the head with a club and eat it on the lawn either. But it sure doesn’t seem to take long for the most primitive and immature parts of yourself to surface once they’re triggered, does it? And the sad thing is, many people around you don’t even know they have “triggers” which explains all the walking wounded you encountered today. They’re the ones who might have shot you a dirty look at work or frowned as you passed them in the store or, ugh, raised that middle finger at you on the highway. You need to “forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

Really, you do. Annoying as these famous words are, they’re what’s good for you. Forgiveness is a powerful practice. Especially on days when you’ve got enough bad juju going on inside to fuel a jet to Mars (which it couldn’t do, which is exactly the point).

The problem with these primate-style reactions is that person they injure the most is you. You’re the one whose blood pressure rises, you’re the one who can barely breathe, yes, you’re the one who can’t eat because your stomach is turning.

So if this is you and if today is one of those days, click here to listen to a releasing meditation. (If it’s not, lucky you, save it for a rainy day.) It will take about 10 minutes. Okay, maybe 11. That sounds like a long time but it’s really not and it’s worth it. Because it’s time to just relax already, to remember who and whose you are. It’s time to let go of what the pressures of the world are doing to you and help heal yourself. So find a comfy place to sit and just let go. Let go of all the hurt that isn’t really yours to hold anyway. Just breathe for a few minutes and watch your heart open and expand. Ah…that’s better. Click here.

Feeling Lost in the Crowd?

LISTEN TO THE STORY

Lost in the Crowd

Flying in and out of a big airport recently, I was struck by how few people ever made eye contact with me during the 2 hours we called it home. It was very odd. Because we had waited in the same lines, offered our identity to gloved handlers who made sure our faces matched our photo, literally rubbed shoulders as we retrieved our possessions from the TSA scanner, and knelt alongside one another to put our shoes back on. We were living a shared experience without acknowledging our togetherness. I quietly wondered how many of us were widows, how many of us were grieving someone, how many of us had received a dreaded diagnosis and I mourned our lack of community.

I bustled down one of those moving sidewalks. The one where some are grateful to rest and ride while the icy and stoic veterans of the runway brusquely walk past. I found my departure gate, located an open chair, unwrapped my over-priced sandwich, and indulged in a little people watching.

I felt like I was watching fish in an aquarium. My son and I were aquarists for years with both salt and fresh water tanks. At night we would turn on the light that lived inside the hood that kept the fish safe from the cat and watch them swim around in their little underwater world. It was like having pop art in your den. The yellow tang, azure damsel, orange and white striped clowns, spotted triggerfish, and elegant angels would claim first one corner and then another, darting behind or inside the miniature sunken ship for rare moments of solitude. They never made eye contact with one another or with you, but they all knew where the container of food resided and when you made your way to that, they would swim in quick formation to the top to await their feeding.

So it was with us. The glass-walled airport was our home away from home. We the little fish swimming inside, darting inside restrooms or restaurants for rare moments of solitude. It was like watching pop art in a public place. The garish overhead lights accentuating the neon colors of clothing, the white lettering on T-shirts, the “whoa girl!” make-up applied by eyes not yet fully awake. Avoiding eye contact with the other, we rose in formation when our group was called to board. It was at once a claustrophobic and lonely experience.

An archaeologist would remind us that isolation for humans is dangerous. That isolation makes us vulnerable to predators and defenseless when attacked. That being unaware of others and our surroundings is, in and of itself, dangerous. We are pack animals, healthiest in a tribe, happiest when we belong to someone or something.

My day in the fish tank was a reminder that being truly seen and authentically known by another is an increasingly rare experience in our age of online identity and text messaging. We long to be understood, to have our story heard, and yet continue to isolate ourselves from the contact that makes such a knowing possible. Reaching out, being the first to lock eyes and offer a smile is a gift we can all afford to give.

Isolation is never a good survival strategy. If you want to known and understood and are looking for knowledgeable and loving support for your journey through widowhood, let’s talk about how the Widow’s Recovery System can benefit you.

 

A gift for you at 8:50 EST on Valentine’s Day!

Valentine’s Day Agenda: Feb. 14
8:50 EST – Listen to Donna Marie’s Valentine’s Story
on WNCW FM’s WORD STAGE

Purchase and eat a really nice, decorated donut because they taste so dang good. And, it’s good to feel good! I want to feel good! Fat tastes good and it’s just 1 (possibly 2 if I need more happy!)

Make a list of my own happy Valentine’s day memories and call a friend (or child) to wish them a Happy Valentine’s Day.

Remember that from love I came and to love I shall return. Do everything today from and for love.

Listen to the story on the website and forward it to a friend.

Arctic Griever’s Retreat

I imagine you heard about the bitter Arctic weather in Chicago recently. Minus 41. Please know that was the actual temperature, not the modern-day, Dixie-darlin’ weather-girl, wind-chill stuff. Six homeless people and scores of animals left outside died, giving new meaning to the words “bitter cold.”

So I guess you can imagine how excited I was to be flying there to perform stories and lead a Navigating Loss retreat. As we began our descent into O’Hare, the depth of the cold was perceptible. No, that’s too small a word. You could feel its wickedness rising up. It was palpable. Even the clouds looked cold. The landscape was white on white, snow distinguished from ice only by its opacity. Thick icicles hung from rooftops, trees, and power lines. The outside walls of the warehouses at the edges of the city were frozen in place, as if they had been spray-painted by the cold. I felt like I was flying into the set of “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.” The airport had just reopened after several days in the deep freeze and we landed on an ice rink of a runway lined by four-feet high walls of piled up snow.

This is yet another reason that I reside in the South. But my dear storytelling friend Patricia had been waiting for me in the cell lot with a warm car so I can’t even pretend to have been affected by what they had just endured. We slid across the hotel parking lot with my luggage and then left for dinner at the pastor’s house where we were greeted by two very curious dogs and a warm fire in the hearth. It was a symbolic beginning for what was to be a very friendly, enthusiastically embracing, achingly lovely weekend.

The story concert came first. My sister was there. Friends from the Network of Biblical Storytellers’ Prairie Wind Guild came. I felt enfolded in warmth and affection.

Saturday dawned bright and cold as 27 people arrived for the Navigating Loss retreat. We were a mess of a mix: Widows and widowers, orphaned 50-somethings, those facing unrelenting illness and its accompanying loss of financial and physical freedom. As we shared our stories of love and loss we bonded deeply. As we laughed at the absurdity of society’s rules about grieving and the deeper absurdity and danger of pretending we’re not, the weather warmed to a balmy 26. Homemade soup and thick sandwiches were consumed, along with cookies of every description. (I hate the cold but love the heartiness of a Midwest buffet!)

Sunday it rose above freezing, I took credit for bringing the warmth of the South with me as I shared the sermon-story “Sometimes the Angels Ride Harleys,” which you can listen to here.

Then I spent the night with my sister and met her new dog. Drank some red wine and ate take-out Chinese. As I flew back through the friendly skies the white clouds of change were appearing on the horizon. Thank God I was back on Southern soil before they were socked again by an ice storm. May the fire of love and understanding warm what’s left of this winter for all of us!

Who Is Helping You?

Widowhood is a tough business. It arrives uninvited with many challenges. And it brings life-changing grief with it. Grief that affects almost every aspect of your life . Without help you can drown in the sorrow.

Many of you have participated in one of my A Widows Tale retreats. Now, I’m offering an online version of this program called Navigating Loss.

This proven program provides a new audio course and lesson worksheets every week for six weeks. And you can interact with other women who are rebuilding after loss in our new private Facebook group. (If you’ve already done a live event retreat with me, you’ll be invited to join this group!)

You can learn more about the program by watching this video.

If you’re wanting to review what you’ve learned at a live event, this is a perfect way to do that. You can order it here for only $149.