It’s winter. All of nature is resting because all living things need rest.
We humans are the only creatures that don’t take the winter off. When the days grow short and darkness comes early, the wild things burrow in and take a nap. But we turn on the lights and watch TV or surf the net or catch up on work. While we drive ourselves to keep producing, nature takes a four-month vacation. I don’t know about you, but I can’t remember the last time I took a four-month vacation.
My husband died in November and by the time the holidays were over it was all I could do to pull myself out of bed and get dressed before three. But I kept pushing myself. Which was not a good thing, because when you’re trying to manage grief you need sleep.
You see, grief is cellular and you only renew your cells when you sleep. So don’t whip yourself up for wanting to sleep a bit more. (Maybe for the next seven years in fact.) Because in seven years every cell in your body will be different! Your cells are turning over, recreating themselves every day. When you rest, you help your body restore.
So I invite you to take a moment now to rest and relax into the world of story for a breath or two.
When I was 7 we lived in a big Victorian house with a little tiny yard in Parkersburg West Virginia back in the day when everyone grew a garden. It was just what you did.
A lot of people grew vegetables but my preacher Daddy only grew flowers, especially roses. He had all the popular ones: the shimmering white, fragrant JFK, the pink Queen Elizabeth grandaflora, and the everything a great rose should be velvety red Mister Lincoln with its 6 inch blooms.
The roses ringed our yard in carefully cultivated organic beds. When the Japanese beetles got on his roses, no pesticide would touch their flesh. Daddy would fill a small glass jar with gasoline and borrow the tweezers from Mother’s vanity. He’d get up before dawn, crouch between the roses like a ninja warrior, wait for the sun to rise and illuminate the beetle’s iridescent shells, and then one by one tweeze them off, drop them into the gasoline, and watch them fight for their lives all the way to the bottom of the jar in some weird return to WW Two.
But then my mother’s mother, a 100 pound, 94-year-old mountain matriarch came to live with us and she had no use for roses: “too many thorns, too much trouble.” She had been widowed for 20 years and reared 5 kids in the Great Depression. She was modeling widowhood for me, although I didn’t know it at the time. When she came to live with us at Thanksgiving she decreed that she would have a vegetable garden that spring, which was a problem, because the small amount of yard that was not taken up by my swing set was already planted with Daddy’s flowers and roses. But Grandma couldn’t see that because the flowerbeds had died back, so she didn’t know a problem was brewing.
In January the Burpee seed catalog came and as Grandma washed the dishes after supper she debated the virtues of corn: Silver Queens vs Country Gentlemen and tomatoes: Mr Stripeys vs Beefstakes, while Daddy sat in his armchair by the fire, crouched behind the Jackson and Perkins rose catalog, eyeing the latest All American tea roses and floribundas.
I made paste Valentines in February while Grandma ordered enough seeds to plant a small farm and Daddy closed the door to his study and ordered two new All American tea roses and a flashy floribunda.
The snow melted.
Daddy dug up the ground around our swings for his new tea roses and grandma snuck in and planted peas around the feet of the swing-set before staking out a row of tomatoes next to his dahlias.
Daddy built a new trellis and planted his hot pink floribunda. Grandma planted silver queen and runner beans on the other side. Every square inch of our back yard that was not taken up by our swing set that year held roses and turnips, dahlias and runner beans.
By the time the family reunion came in July, my sister and I had no place to play because Grandma’s peas had climbed the swing-set and were spilling down the slide. It doesn’t take long for things to crowd out your life, does it?
So as these last few days of winter coat the world in frost take a cue from Mother nature: send your roots deep into the quiet and rest.
Rest is what you need to restore yourself from death.
If you want enduring relief from grief, if you want to recover your life and live happily without guilt then join the online Widows Recovery System. A new program starts February 15! Email me to learn more.
Have you ever been afraid of the dark?
When I was a young child I had night terrors that involved alien beings. Once or twice a year, I would awake in the wee hours of the early morning to find them moving about my bedroom, looking at me with their luminous, tear-shaped eyes. They were hairless and wore draped clothing that reminded me of my father’s clerical robes, minus the velvet doctoral stripes on the sleeves. They spoke in voices that were more murmurs than sound, like the static on my grandmother’s old console radio when she forgot to turn it off after the baseball game. The aliens were tall, with swollen bellies, long arms, and fingers oddly shaped like suction cups that felt like the rubber gloves my mother wore to wash the dishes. They were creepy to say the least but what was really frightening was that I was unable to speak or move in their presence. My mind would not obey me. If I tried to get up or scream nothing happened. And, I couldn’t see through their eyes into their souls like I could with real people. Instead, their eyes reflected my room back to me like the warped antique silvered mirror in the hall. It was scary, even now I get chills thinking about it. I don’t remember being hurt by them but I was terrified of my own helplessness.
I’m still am. I haven’t had alien dreams since I was twelve or thirteen but I often fear my own helplessness. It infuriates me when I find myself unable to speak or move when I most need to. (I’m working on that.) Working on freeing my voice to speak out when someone says something unthinkingly mean. (I’ve discovered that usually when people say unthinkably, untruthful mean things it’s because they’re threatened and that’s how they make themselves feel safe, and while I get that, it doesn’t make it hurt any less.)
But the worst part is, when you’re afraid of the dark, you can’t see all the beautiful things that are being born in the safety of that darkness.
Like babies for instance. I can still remember the astonishment I felt with every inch of growth my son made inside my womb. I remember how, as he expanded into his 25-inch, 9-pounds, 6-ounce breech-baby self, my hips had to shift apart and my organs had to find new places to live. I am still amazed that my body could do that.
Or bulbs! Think of those! The ugly-ducklings of the flower world! Two amaryllis grace my home now, their flower heads rising taller each day from what appears to be a long-dead onion. Around Valentine’s Day they’ll burst into enormous white and red blooms and fill my home with their stately beauty. Not bad for a long-dead onion.
And even now, inside of me, new things are being born. On these soft, cloudy days of winter, a book is taking shape, words are spilling onto the page, stories are surfacing, illustrating the movement I experienced as I moved from new widow to recovered woman.
If I can hold on just long enough to not be afraid of the dark, very often miracles happen. (Statistically speaking, all life is a miracle, but that’s a topic for another day.) As winter wraps herself around you like a heavy velvet cape get ready for something special because in the safety of this darkness, something beautiful is being born inside you.
New Years 2020
Sleep: the fountain of youth, restorer of dreams, maker of magic, the ultimate healer of the exhausted soul.
After the Christmas madness ended I slept. For 10 hours. I curled up inside, stretched myself out against it, allowed it to snuggle my sore and fragile places. Sleep balmed them and restored them as only she can.
I call sleep a she for who but a mother could see the weariness of her child and gently lead them to bed, tucking the warmth of the covers under their chin, stroking their face and smoothing their head with her soft hand, singing a lullaby to woo them into dreamland. Of course sleep is a woman.
I slept in my sixteenth birthday present: the cherry-wood canopy bed made by my Godfather Russ as the rain began in the mountains of NC. A gentle yet steady, slow into the night, watering the earth one drop at a time. My husband Perrin always called this kind of rain a mountain rain. He held fond memories of it from youthful days cavorting in the woods of my next-door neighbor, Montreat, the Presbyterian holy of holy lands. This kind of rain is soft and steady with a comforting, yet uneven, rhythm. It gets the job done and sometimes stays for days at a time until the streams begin to dance against their moss-covered banks and sing as they rush over large, smooth stones. Stones that often appear curiously placed, like the melting turrets of a child’s sand castle in the surf.
When sleep and rain came together this time, I found the restoration I so desperately needed. I had been on the road for months and then faced the hasty scurrying for the holiday. Before I gave into it, I felt like an anxious squirrel gathering nuts before the earth freezes over and the snow begins or perhaps a vintage Ferrari that barely made it to the garage before finally running out of gas, whichever metaphor works for you is fine. The important thing to understand is that I was tired.
Traveling in and out of cities this fall from Minnesota to Pennsylvania to Ohio to Illinois and back to the beaches of North Carolina, I swapped stories with the honestly aching souls of humanity, holding the pain they felt safe enough to share, seeing the frenzy of modern living in all the eyes that gazed back at mine. And you know what? I felt so honored to do the work I do as a storyteller with people I love and respect because I’ve discovered we’re all wounded and in need of understanding and restoration. It’s no wonder Mother Sleep keeps trying to put us to bed.
So as we enter a new decade of life, instead of making unrealistic “resolutions,” Perhaps we should make ourselves a sacred promise or two instead. Make a promise to spend more time comforting our soft inner selves and spending a few more hours in the arms of Mother Sleep, who just wants her children to be rested and happy.
Dear friend, here’s wishing you all the best in this new decade of life! If there’s any way I can help you have a happier, healthier 2020, please let me know and let’s talk!
“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?
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’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!
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.
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?
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.
SCHEDULE A FREE CALL WITH ME TODAY