Living Open and Big

“If I could save time in a bottle the first thing that I’d like to do

 is to save every day ‘til eternity passes away

just spend them with you.” Jim Croce

The days of our lives blow by like leaves on a November wind, swirling in ways we don’t anticipate, appearing aimless in their trajectory, only to land us right where we are meant to be.

The eighth anniversary of my husband Perrin’s death came and went this week. It seems surreal that it’s been eight years and feels like an eternity on the other end.

Sometimes it’s nice to have a chance during such remembrances of death to sit with yourself, to gather your thoughts around how you want to spend your days. Because the only guarantee is that your days will be short. (Or at least shorter than you think.)

So I reflected for a while on All Saints Day with poet (and The Artist’s Way facilitator) James Nave on what it means to live a life that is simple, open and big on his radio show this week.

As I head out to Natural Bridge, Virginia to lead the All Lutheran Women’s Retreat this weekend, I invite you to ponder that same question. What does it mean to YOU to live a life that is simple, open, and big?

Cutting Yourself Some Slack

It’s easy to be overwhelmed by thoughts of what you “should” be doing or “could” be doing, especially when you’re a widow and you’re trying to do everything alone.

Sneaky self-criticism often slides into the mind and questions you relentlessly: “What makes you think you can do that? (Insert spouse’s name here) was the one who knew how to do that, not you! How will you know if this will work or not? Remember, you can’t afford to mess this up!”

When this familiar dialogue starts up, interupt it with the power of third person language. It’s a very powerful process that helps you have self-empathy and understanding.

Instead of: “What makes you think you can do that?” Try this: “The reason she’s wondering if she can do that is because that was something he always did. She’s afraid she’ll do it the wrong way because he wanted to do it himself, but look at all the household things she managed. I think she can do it!”

Third person language is just one of the powerful tools you will learn with my coaching program.

Remember: the most powerful words you hear are the ones you tell yourself. Pay attention to the way you speak to yourself and for heaven’s sake, be kind to you!


She’s Gone

She’s really gone…

She’d spent a whole day saying goodbye. When I realized she’d gone, I wept.

That tiny ball of energy had become my beloved companion. I was worried for her safety, knowing she would fly in a straight shot across the Gulf in an 18 to 20-hour solo trip and face an uncertain future when she arrived in Mexico.

I’ve always loved hummingbirds but I’ve never had one like her. A mere three inches long, she was the undisputed queen of my yard. No other female dared approach “her” feeder.  (Hummingbirds are territorial in an almost pugnacious way. They’re not social birds, just sexual for a few brief weeks.) She wove a tiny nest the size of a walnut with spider silk and moss in the crook of a branch on the weeping cherry tree, an early source of nectar, and laid two eggs the size of peas.

When I planted a mandevilla and rosy, ruffled hibiscus on the deck outside my office window, she took up residence there. I’d woven the mandevilla vine around an iron stake with a heart at the top and she used that as her throne. She perched right at the base of the iron heart, like a gleaming emerald amongst rubies. She kept me company as I worked.

At the start of the season, there was a male feeding with her. When nesting time came, he ate heartily from the feeder – she vanished for weeks, only to reappear with children the size of bees. In fact, the first time I saw them, I thought they were bees. Then the male was banished. Was he rude? Greedy? Disloyal? Did she prefer solitude? I’m not sure, but she was larger than he was and before long she had driven him to the far corners of the yard where the butterfly bushes bloom against the fence. After the banishment, she sent the babies out on their own and spent her  days with me.

She particularly enjoyed being a part of the guided visualizations that begin all my calls with widowed clients. (If you’re rolling your eyes right now, stop. She understood it was sacred. Say what you will, she knew.) She’d hold very still and lift her breast to catch the sun, her tiny gorget feathers spiraling a spectrum of color toward me with an energy that was crystalline. She was pure femininity, pure strength. Her beauty and powerful flight inspired me.

As the summer drew on, we grew closer still. She’d fly to and from her feeder, returning to her heart perch, as I grilled or sipped wine on the deck. In these moments of gentle communing we were close enough to share a breath.  She was the most unusual (and beautiful) girlfriend I’ve ever had.

By the time autumn arrived, the others were long gone. On a cold mountain morning, I found her perched on her heart in a state of torpor, a deep, sleep-like hibernation used by hummers to preserve their fat stores. I wondered if she was too old to migrate, and for several days, that appeared to be the case. But then she flew deliberately from my office window to her feeder. Back and forth, unabashedly demanding (and receiving) a batch of fresh, homemade nectar.

On the last day she drained the feeder and her belly grew fat. Her communing grew more intentional, almost magical. While I typed, she hovered near my office window and watched me work. She sat on the dogwood outside the dining room while I ate lunch. We had supper together on the deck. She watched the sunset from her perch and fluffed her feathers up for a parting swirl of jewel-like color as the light of the day faded. I think she wanted me to remember her beauty.  When dawn came, she was gone.

I know she had to leave and I am thankful for the sweet farewells of her parting. Her presence was a tiny, colorful reminder that many other sentient creatures also call our planet home. I wish her the safest of travels on her solo flight across the Gulf of Mexico. What an amazing woman. I am proud to have known her.

If you’re looking for someone to inspire you to rebuild your life, let’s talk. Having a coach can make the process easy and fun!

Are You Stuck?

Our minds crave patterns and routine. That’s why it’s hard to keep that new diet or exercise program going. It’s also why it is so easy to stay stuck in our grief. Once it’s established a pattern, our brain is more comfortable grieving than healing.

When grief becomes a habit (which is easy to do in widowhood because there’s a LOT to work through!), then it’s hard NOT to get stuck in dark moods, weepy memories, and loneliness. The more ingrained this sticky web of sorrow becomes, the more the brain repeats the pattern. Not because you want to, but because that’s what the brain does.

When a spider catches an insect in its web, it binds up in sticky silk, mummifies it, and leaves it hanging in the wind. This is what your mind can do with grief. And it’s no fun being stuck there.

The STOP technique is great for those times when we feel stuck. First: just stop what you’re doing. Next, take 3 deep breaths and smile (force yourself, smiling releases happy chemicals into your body). Then, observe how you’re feeling. And proceed with awareness. This technique, developed by Dr. Rudolph Tanzi at Harvard University, helps you become aware of grief cycles and lets you stop the cycle long enough to make a different choice.

If you want more help in getting free of grief’s cycles and patterns, I offer a proven coaching system for widowed women. Learn more here.

Tune Up Your Imagination!

Going a marveling with my son.

When you feel like you’ve run out of options or your world is looking really small, try tuning up your imagination for a new burst of ideas and energy!

I was in need of inspiration and new ideas recently so I took took an imagination tune-up trip with my son to Fripp Island in South Carolina. Our perfectly sized, 3-bedroom cottage had a lovely screened-in porch that overlooked a lagoon.

It was one of those mystical, Southern lagoons where dripping Spanish moss overhung a still pool of algae dense water. And each night at dusk, white egrets (and a few lesser blue herons) flew in to nest. Not just two or three mind you but at least 50, maybe more. It was nothing short of amazing. We were temporary neighbors to a bird rookery.

As dark fell, the egrets began squabbling over roosting rights and lesser birds were tossed to the water below where a short panicked squawk ended inside the jaws of an 8-foot gator who also called the lagoon home. 

This bird behavior is known as siblicide and nesting incidents are not uncommon according to Cornell’s ornithology website. Listening to their primordial calls against the soft, nearly-silent swimming strokes of the alligator in the green water beneath them was like listening to the dawn of the world.

Talk about fodder for the imagination! After one night of cocktails beside the rookery I was dreaming of indigenous Indians in alligator thongs silently paddling hand-hewn canoes through salty inlets, their long black hair adorned with egret feathers, sharpened harpoons in hand. I awoke very aware that deep in my DNA, small units of Indian blood still remembered some stuff.

On the island, I dreamed Technicolor dreams.

The next day we drove our “Little Engine That Could” golf cart two blocks to the beach. Remember that childhood classic? Our cart’s battery was on its last legs, as were the underinflated tires, and it huffed and puffed as it climbed the bridge over the inlet, “I think I can, I think I can, I think I can!” Which led to delightful visions of Mrs. Graines who “kept” me sometimes when I was three. Neither of us could read very well so she read that book to me a lot. The big fairy-tale book stayed on the shelf when she came to spend the night. But she brought saltines, which we ate with tiny cups of my mother’s favorite Constant Comment tea, served from my doll’s tea set. No one else thought to do that with me and I found the practice quite delightful. I hadn’t thought of her in years and enjoyed the remembrance.

And then there was the Atlantic ocean with its Rip Tides, playful dolphins, and sunsets. As I watched a young teen swimming too far from the shore, near the red warning flag, I remembered almost dying with my Daddy at Folly Beach and being rescued by a motorcycle-riding Marine.

Walking the shoreline in the early morning, we passed beached jellyfish ranging in size from silver dollars to dinner plates, their stingers still loaded with venom and spreading out into the surrounding sand like a perfectly set trap for the unsuspecting. It was all I could do to keep my little dog Pip from eating one. (Pip enjoys organic, wild-sourced snacks of all kinds on a nauseatingly regular basis.)

While it was a short trip, only three nights, it was a grand stirring of the imagination.

I arrived home inspired again thanks to a little dose of salty sea, the miracles of mother nature, and the motion-pictures-for-one that live inside us all.

When will you make time for your next imagination tune-up?

Feeling Trapped by the Memories?

Do you spend more time reliving images of the past, the days you had together, the life you shared, than you do in the present moment?

It’s a pretty big side effect of widowhood and a common experience for most of us. After all, when you were married for 10, 15, 20, 30, 50 years a lot of your life is sitting back over your shoulder. And it’s really tempting to keep looking at it. Especially when the future feels so uncertain.

HOW you look at the life you lost determines a lot about how well you will heal. Sound odd? It’s not.

You see, our brains like routine. You had routines in your relationship that are now disrupted and gone forever. But your mind doesn’t know the difference between what was and what is and what you want for the future. You have to tell it what to think. Make no mistake, what you think about is what you receive. To heal and move forward, you want to help your mind let go of the slide show and visualize a new future. It’s very possible to do this, it’s neuro science.

When you examine what you’ve lost with a skilled guide and a reliable grieving process you can understand and release that unending slide show of your past life and move into your future.

I am a coach for Widowed Women. As a  Certified Grief Recovery Specialist and fellow widow, I can help you navigate all these memories and move your life forward.

You can hope it gets better or you can invest in your future.

Hit Pause

The pause is here. Have you felt it? Nature is taking a deep, cool breath and resting for a minute before moving onto the next thing.   Maybe you could do that, too. Maybe you could take in a deep breath and prepare for what’s next.  

A cool breeze is slipping around the edges of the heat that has baked too many of us this summer. It’s sliding up just at sunset, giving us a whiff of what’s next. Like a cosmic resetting, a resettling of what is.  

I don’t know about you, but I often underestimate the stresses of summer. I always think I’ll “just relax;” only to have conferences, trips, vacays, tight schedules, too much sunshine, sunscreen, and heat pile up on me like a curse instead of a respite. What the heck happened to my anticipated relaxation?  

It was just more delicious self-delusion! Like when I make plans with a friend to go to the old-fashioned, hand-dipped ice cream shop where I’m going to order three flavors in a waffle cone only to look at the calorie count and go for the no-sugar-added, mini-yogurt in a pill cup.  

After all the teary-hot racing around doing nothing stress of summer, I welcome autumn. It holds my birth month (October) and the closer it gets, the better I feel. (I’m curious. Does that happen to you in your birth month?) While I’m not an astrology person, I find the renewed energy around the time I was birthed quite fascinating. (Witnessing death has changed my opinion about life. A subject for another time perhaps.)  

So today I’m doing it. I’m just breathing into that quiet pause nature is offering. As the summer insects sing their closing chorus, I want to sit in that space and rest.  

Once again we’re in transition whether we planned to be or not. (Have you noticed God doesn’t really care whether you’re ready or not?)   God lets nature push us along. She gives us visual clues, changes the landscape with color so we don’t miss the unfolding of the transition.

While nature is ever-changing, we experience transitions, too: birth, school, graduation, work, marriage, babies, work, illness, and then when we least expect it, death.  

And each little transition is sacred. Each one deserves to be held in our hearts and celebrated for the special moment it is. So don’t miss this one. Sit with nature and take a deep breath. Don’t worry about getting lost there. Life will push you along soon enough!  

Let me guide you as you transition. SCHEDULE YOUR FREE CALL NOW.

Who Is Going to Fix That?

My world was falling apart. I had to fix it. As a widow, you quickly learn life has a never-ending question: “Now who is going to fix THAT?” I found my solution this time with two brothers who know how to do just about anything and everything which is a good thing because just about …

An Honest Conversation About Widowhood

An Honest Conversation about Widowhood

Donna Marie: What was the hardest thing for you about becoming a widow for you Gwenda?

Gwenda: Admitting that I needed help and then asking for it. You feel so raw and so, well, it’s almost like being a kid again. Not knowing how to do things and needing somebody to hold your hand and lead you through it but you’re a mature woman and you’re not supposed to be like that.

Donna Marie: I think your reference to being like a child again is so interesting…it’s an interesting spot to be in, isn’t it?

Gwenda: Interesting…that’s a nice adjective (she laughs!).

Donna Marie: So you came to A Widow’s Tale retreat…did you find that helpful?

Gwenda: Yeah, it was helpful. There’s something strange when you’re talking about grief, sort of this dark curtain comes down. It’s like a dark room you don’t wanna go into, right? You know, I’m so tired of being the one that has to deal with everything.

Donna Marie: Say more about that. That part has been really big for me.

GWENDA: Well, you’re always on…. there’s nobody else. The kids want the best for you but – they’re not there, are they?

Dealing with everything and not knowing what you’re doing, it’s like a comic bit, like the old cartoons….Oh my God, what am I going to do about this? Who do I call? Of course it’s a pattern and now, now, I just do it automatically. I’ll just get somebody…

Donna Marie: If you had to tell other widows something about being a widow what would it be?

GWENDA: When you lose the person you’ve lived your life with, when I became a widow, I started on a new journey to finding out who Gwenda is now and I’m still on that one. It’s entirely new territory. Not completely new, what you’ve lived and who you are is there but it’s different now. You work on being your own best friend.

I couldn’t have said it better myself! Gwenda is right, your real work now is learning to be your own best friend. The Widow’s Recovery System is designed to help you become your own best friend.

It’s easy to get started.

  1. You set up a free phone call with me to talk about where you are in your widow’s journey and where you’d like to be. The whole program takes place in the privacy of your own home.
  2. You order the program online.
  3. You’ll receive the link to 7 Recovery Audio Recovery Courses that provide valuable insights. As you listen, you’ll learn about the different phases of grief and gain a deeper understanding about the challenges of your recovery and rebuilding process.
  4. Your Recovery Workbook has practical exercises to release grief and rebuild a compassionate relationship with YOURSELF step-by-step!
  5. I’ll be right here for you. Every other week, we’ll talk by phone, just the two of us, about how things are going. This gives you the support you need to move forward!
  6. And, you’ll receive unlimited email support for the full seven weeks of the program.


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. Sign up now for a free sacred support call.