Relax and Catch Your Breath!

Retired hospice bereavement counselor Brian Eckhart has a saying, “When someone you love dies, your brains fall out.” Grief is a complicated thing and it doesn’t end all at once. There are pieces of grief that will always be with us. Grief isn’t something you “get over,” it’s something you learn to live with.

But eventually, grief DOES stop running your life. The time frame for this is different for everyone. Some women feel ready to move forward after six months, others take several years to reach that point of readiness. You begin to think about “normal” things again. You find it’s easier to make decisions, or at least recognize that there are some decisions awaiting your approval.

One of the trickiest things about moving forward is the energy you’ll need. Moving forward takes a lot of energy! How fast you’ll go depends on how much energy you have and how much support and encouragement you receive.

Recovery, like grief, has its own time frame. You can’t rush it or push it. It is wise to honor the fact that you have survived the biggest “life change” of them all – the death of your spouse. Rebuilding your life is not an easy thing, either. You are going to build a new framework for your life, one that honors you and the things you like to do. Some days it will feel like a “one step forward, one step back” kind of process!

It’s very, very easy to get overwhelmed with all the things you think you have to do or want to do or feel you need to do. So, start by using this relaxation exercise developing by Harvard psychologist Herbert Benson. It’s called the relaxation response and it’s simple to do:

Sit comfortably for 5 minutes. Close your eyes. Focus all on your breath. Feel your breath enter your belly and see it leaving your body as you exhale. Each time you exhale, silently say the word “one.” If your mind wanders (and it will try to!) simply return to being aware of your breath and continue to silently say the word “one” on each exhale.

Surviving the Unthinkable

No one asks to be a widow. Remember when John Lennon said, “Life is what happens to you while you are making other plans?“ No one plans to be a widow!

I became a widow in late 2011 after my healthy-as-a-horse, athletic husband of 23 years had a series of massive strokes at age 55 and died. It’s been hard. I’m not going to kid you about that. It has been really hard to take care of all the legal and financial things that have to be done when someone dies. I had to raise our teenage son alone and rebuild my life personally, professionally and financially. But with the right help, it can be done. I did it, Kar- en-Eve did it and we know other widows can, too.

At first, I was shocked and confused about every- thing. (Death does this to you and I still have days where I feel that way!) I was emotionally and phys- ically run-down from taking care of my husband. When your husband dies you get turned inside-out like pants’ pockets on laundry day.

I knew I needed help so I looked for good resources. Being a literate person, I turned to books first.
 If there’s a book about widowhood I probably own it. I found books that groveled in stories of personal tragedy or gave juicy details on the deaths of the rich and famous. From these I learned that everyone eventually dies. No one gets out of here alive. I read another book about rapid remarriage that suggest- ed new lingerie, bikini waxes, tight skirts and high heels as a life strategy. Since the bikini and tight skirt phases of my life were over I couldn’t use these life strategies.

I didn’t want to grovel or take a pill or fall down in high heels. I wanted a program that would support me as I got my life back together. But I couldn’t find one! So I began to research wellness, grieving, positive psychology, dietary support for the immune system, and life rebuilding strategies. I took all the information I found (that was legit and proven to work) and I applied these strategies to my life. And, I recovered and rebuilt my life.

Now, you recover, too, with my hard-won personal knowledge on widowhood, hours of research, and practical ideas that I know work through the Widows Recovery System.

This system is designed to give you the support you need, the practical ideas and information you won’t find elsewhere all in one place, and the personal coaching of a widow who has been there and done that!

You can move through this devastating loss, I believe deeply in the power of you and I want to help you get to the other side! Find out more!


Tips for Managing Your Stress

Widowhood is VERY stressful. You’ve had to make a myriad of decisions about all sorts of things, just when you feel least capable of making good decisions. Grief stresses your physical and emotional body.

Understanding and acknowledging that your life as a new widow is going to be stressful is actually a healthy thing to do. Having a plan for managing your stress can keep it from sabotaging you! Here are some things you can actively do to help manage your stress:

Set Priorities

Not everything is an emergency. Not every situation has to be addressed RIGHT NOW. Ask yourself how important this task will be five years from now. Focus on the things that are really important (Like your own well-being, for instance!).

Take Your Time With Major Life Changes

You’ve been through one of the biggest life changes there is, so if you don’t have to make decisions about where you’ll live or where you’ll work or buying that new car, don’t! The old adage of waiting a year to make any large decision is still a wise one.

Just Say No

Your grief has probably lowered your capacity for productivity. This is not the time to take on big new projects or increase your work load. Be kind to you and just say, “No, not now. Maybe in a year or so…”

Take Time to Relax

Set aside 10-20 minutes throughout your day to just relax and do some deep breathing. A mid- morning, mid-afternoon and early evening break will restore your body. Also leave several evenings a week unscheduled.

Make Distinctions Between Realistic and Unrealistic Worries

Worry is the girlfriend of widowhood. Make a list of your worries and then rate them on a scale of 1 to 10 (10 being the most likely to happen, 1 the least likely to happen). Fearful thinking is very stressful. Don’t give into it. Address realistic worries with an action plan.

Don’t Bottle Up Your Emotions

Keeping your emotions bottled up increases stress! When you are grieving, emotions can come out of nowhere, sometimes at inopportune times! If you feel a big emotion coming on when you are in public, try to excuse yourself so you can release the emotion in private. Express your feelings to friends or by writing in a journal. Talk to a counselor…

Practice Relaxing

Take 3 deep breaths in through your nose and release them slowly through your mouth. Make a habit of doing this every hour of your waking day. When you practice relaxing in this way, you are better able to use this as a strategy when stressful situations arise. Hourly breathing practice will have a beautiful effect on your blood pressure and mood!

Give Yourself Extra Time

Get up earlier, leave for appointments earlier, go to bed earlier, create holes in your schedule so you don’t feel pushed to get things done. Overestimate how much time every thing will take. Grief slows your mental processing speed.

You can do this! The Widow’s Recovery System gives you ideas, practical support and a guide who knows the territory! It’s easy…

1. Schedule your free call to find out more.

2. Order online.

3. Listen to the Recovery Audio Courses in the privacy of your own home, on your schedule!

4. Use the workbook to process your thoughts and make a wellness plan that matches who YOU are and what YOU need to recover.

5. Enjoy private sacred support phone calls with the founder every other week. She’s your guide and she’ll get your back!

6. Receive unlimited email support for the next 3 months.



Am I Going Crazy?

Retired hospice bereavement counselor Brian Eckhart has a saying, “When someone you love dies, your brains fall out.” So the first thing to know is that you’re probably okay.

Did you forget to put the wet clothes in the dryer for 3 days? Some of us have done that, too. It’s normal. Did you sleep 12 hours yesterday? Yeah, we’ve done that, too. It’s okay (UNLESS it’s been happening for a week or more, if it’s been longer than a week, make an appointment with a grief counselor or your family doctor. Just to check in and make sure you’re okay!)

Have you been really angry? Yeah! That’s grief! Or have you been deeply sad? Yeah, that’s grief, too. You may even feel guilty or afraid or find yourself laughing when you think you should be crying. Yes. Welcome to grieving.

Grief has its own schedule and time frame. You’ll feel fine one minute and crushed under a load of gravel the next. If you feel happy or relieved, it’s okay. Your spouse may have suffered greatly, it’s okay to feel relief that they aren’t suffering anymore. It’s okay to feel happy, too. (This happy feeling may be fleeting for a year or more so enjoy when it’s there!)

You are going to want to feel better fast. You probably won’t.

It’s normal to want to “get back to normal.” But, you can’t yet. Why? Because your “normal” has just had a HUGE change and no matter what else is going on, you need time to figure out what your “new normal” looks and feels like. More on this in our next email!

But no matter what you’re feeling, you’re probably not going crazy. No matter what you’re feeling, you’re probably not going crazy, you’re just grieving. *

Write down all the emotions you have felt since he died. (Sad, mad, frustrated, silly, etc.) When you’re finished making your list, say OUT LOUD: “It’s okay for me to feel (insert a word from your list here). It’s normal, I’m grieving. I’m okay.” Repeat this process with every word on your list. And know that you’re okay.*

*If you are thinking about ending your life or hurting yourself, please seek help from a mental health professional or your family doctor immediately. You may need medical support as you grieve.

The Widow’s Recovery System is here to help you move through grief and rebuild a new, healthy life. It’s easy to get started!

1. Schedule your free call with Donna Marie Todd, Certified Grief Recovery Specialist and founder of A Widow’s Tale.
2. Order online and use the program from the comfort and privacy of your own home!



The Future

Won’t Always Promise Tomorrow

By Torey Morgan Todd


It’s hard to look in the mirror,

and know for a fact you’re still here,

then look to that space right beside you

and know that they’re no longer there.


People say that in time it gets better,

they say the pain goes away,

like a cut if you sit there and take it,

you’ll be better by the next day.


To continue to cover the pain up,

they say that they’ve just gone away

like a shadow behind, they guide you,

by your side forever they say.


We know that the pain won’t get better,

we wear it like a limp in our stride,

we learn better to bear it each morning,

while we cover the pain inside.


There’s not a “time limit” for you to be grieving,

so never be afraid to cry.

You can rage at the world around you

yet you’ll never learn a reason why.


We know they’re not always beside us,

their path has gone another way.

There are new journeys for them to go on

it would be cruel if by us they must stay.


It doesn’t mean you won’t visit

you’ll feel them time to time.

So we should live life to its fullest

so they can savor our journeys like wine.


Remember when you wake up in the morning

to yourself always be kind.

The future won’t promise tomorrow

Each day a new path you will find.



The Widow’s Recovery System was designed to help you move forward, past grief, past your “old” life into a new place. It’s all done from the privacy of your own home.

It’s easy to get started!

1. Reserve your free call to discuss the program.

2. Use the convenient on-line order form.

3. Listen to the seven Recovery Audio Courses.

4. Use your Recovery Workbook to map out your progress and get in touch with you and what you might want now.

5. Have a private phone conversation with me every other week. I’ll be your guide, I know the territory and I know you can do this!

6. Receive unlimited email support during the program.


Getting It Back Together

When your spouse dies, it’s devastating. As widows, we know that. But everyone else seems to expect you to just “get it back together!” Well, unless you’ve been there, you don’t understand how much it takes to pull yourself back together.

At first, your brains fall out, so you can’t really think clearly about anything no matter how smart and capable you are!

And then just when you think you’re over the grieving, you find out you’re not, that there’s a whole other layer beneath the layer beneath the layer.

So what can you do? Here are some practical things to think about:

Your Social Life
After the first few months, you’ll find that your friendships will change. You’ll no longer be included in events for couples. But the good news is that as a single person, you now have the chance to build new friendships with people who share your interests. This can be very exciting and rewarding and the Widows Recovery System helps you explore these new possibilities!

Home Life

Nope, things aren’t going to feel the same around home now that he’s gone. While it’s a good idea not to make any really big decisions or changes for a year or so, unless financial circumstances force you to, freshening up your nest, making it more appealing for you can be really freeing and give you something constructive to do in those often lonely hours at home alone. It can be fun to re-feather your nest and the Recovery System has a great course and exercise to help you think through that!

Emotional Health

Did you know that grief is cellular? Yep. Every single cell in your body is undergoing a huge life change right now. Handling the gamut of emotions that arise, in a healthy way, is so important. This is not a time to deal sternly with yourself. This is a time to heal yourself with love. Use a grief container practice to heal a little bit more every day.

Guess what? You know an important secret. Death comes in unexpected ways and times. Use this special time to draw ever nearer to the God who loves you beyond measure. You’ll find that scriptures and prayers will speak to you in new ways now that you have en- countered death and lived. The Recovery System offers healing meditations and relaxing breath work that you can experience online.

It’s hard to survive a spouse’s death without support, professional advice, and real-life tools. The Widows Recovery System was founded by a Certified Grief Recovery Specialist and widow so it gives you a helping hand in thinking about every aspect of your life with gentle, informative, and personalized support. You can do it and you don’t have to do it alone!


Got Weeds?

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.

It’s easy to get started! Here’s how it works:

  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. You don’t have to go anywhere or get dressed up.)
  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. Let me get your back. 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!


What’s It Like for You?

As you may know, the retreat portion of A Widow’s Tale was developed with a grant from the National Storytelling Network.

I wanted to share this conversation that I had with NSN’s Circle of Excellence Award winner and widow, Gwenda Ledbetter.

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. It’s everyone being in the same place and having survived so to speak…it’s the company of the others.

Donna Marie: It’s really lovely to be with the other women. And you “get” each other — you understand.

GWENDA; 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. Let me get your back. 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.


Memorial Day

Sarge was my Daddy’s last best friend. I never knew his “real” name, everyone just called him Sarge, which I guess pretty well tells you that he was a career military man. They were the two widowed roosters in a hen house called the assisted living center. They were handsome and ornery but as Sarge said, “We’re too old to do anything about it.” When they moved my Daddy to the nursing unit, he came twice a day, like clockwork, just to say hello. He was a faithful friend until the very end.

After Daddy died, I gave him the lift chair and he played with the remote for hours on end. He put it through its paces like the drill sergeant he was. “Attention!” he’d holler as he pushed the button to go up and then he’d push the button to go down and say “At ease.” It was really funny. He loved that chair.

Like Daddy, Sarge was a child of the great depression and like Daddy, he lost his mother before he turned 9. But unlike Daddy, his father sent him to live with a distant relative, to work on his farm in exchange for room and board. People did that back then—it was how folks survived.

The first Easter Sarge lived on the farm, he carefully lined his Easter basket with field grass, like his mother had taught him, and left it on the stairs for the Easter bunny to find it. But when he ran downstairs on Sunday morning, the basket had a big horse turd in it instead of candy and Sarge said, “That’s when I knew the Easter bunny wasn’t never coming again, Santa Claus neither.” What a cruel joke. What kind of man does that to a child?

Needless to say, he left that farm as soon as he could in the only way that gave him a safe way out: The US Army. Sarge was a hard worker accustomed to sacrifice. The Army needed men like him, men who understood hardship and death. He stayed at it, married a sweet woman from home, and rose to the rank of Sergeant.

He travelled the world with the military and regaled the assisted living hens with stories of his exploits over supper. The two missionary women would try to one-up him but it never worked. He’d seen things—lots of things. “I’ve seen too many things a man shouldn’t have to see and I wish the good Lord would let me forget.” he told Daddy more than once. I guess, in a way, God answered his prayer. Sarge developed dementia and barely knew who he was for a few years before he died

As Memorial Day dawns, I salute men like Sarge. I salute all the men and women who have seen things no one should have to see so the rest of us don’t have to. They sacrificed themselves on a daily basis so we wouldn’t have to. Sarge, and his fellow soldiers, who lost their minds and limbs and lives serving our country and protecting our freedoms will always be honored in my home and heart. On this weekend when we acknowledge their service, may they know peace.



Struggling to Breathe

It started early one morning over a week ago. I heard a seal pup barking incessantly in the distance and then gradually realized it was me. My head was hot and my chest felt oddly tight, as if I couldn’t figure out how (or where) to catch my breath, so I just gave up and slept some more. Ten hours to be exact, before rising to drink a glass of water, calling the doctor for an appointment, and going back to bed for another ten.

At the doctor’s, I was unceremoniously asked to wear a facemask. (I guess the seal pup barking gave me away.) They swabbed me here and swabbed me there; I was negative for flu, strep, and my exit form said, “Extreme Cough – Possible Pneumonia.” An X-ray was ordered for the next day.

Oddly, I didn’t have to wait at the pharmacy for hours like usual. Thanks to my cough and face mask, people parted to let me through like I had the black plague. I received a duffel bag full of drugs marked “Acute! Waiting!”: Steroids (which made me feel like a crack addict in a superwoman suit), a strong antibiotic (bye-bye gut bacteria), an inhaler (I cried every time I used it!), and a codeine-laced cough syrup that calmed the worst of my bark but made me feel like a trailer-trash queen with too much mascara and a two-sizes-too-small sagging tube top. The X-Ray confirmed pneumonia.

Since I’ve never met a metaphor I didn’t like, I’ve spent the last 10 days (when I’ve been conscious) reflecting about other times I have struggled to breathe. (None of those were pretty either…)

Often, we struggle to breathe way before we want to label ourselves as “Acute!” or “Comatose!” Financial issues, illness, work difficulties, family arguments, relocating, and a host of other situations put an increasing pressure on our chest that just doesn’t want to go away. We feel weighted down and lethargic inside our own skin. The stronger the pressure, the less we want to talk about it. The stronger the pressure the more we want to try to sleep it off instead of slowing down. In fact, often we’re afraid to slow down because we’re afraid we’ll run out of breath altogether.

And yet. And yet, that’s exactly what we need to do. We need to just stop and check in with ourselves: “Hey, how’s the breathing thing going?”

As I discovered with my pneumonia, when your lungs are full of junk, there’s no space for oxygen. And when your life becomes a struggle, there’s no space for breath.

So if that’s you right now, just STOP. Right here. Right now. Take a quiet moment to feel the breath coming in your body and leaving your body. This breath is your life. You are not your financial issues, illness, work difficulties, family arguments, or upcoming decision.

You are a human being and you live from one breath to the next until you don’t. So honor this by closing your eyes and focusing on your breath. Watch it coming in and going out. You are a human being living from one breath to the next. That’s all and that’s enough. With each breath in, life fills your cells and with each breath out, that which no longer serves you leaves. FACT: that breath you just took was given to you by the mercy of God. Let that be enough.