What’s Your Story?

If you’re reading this, chances are good that you are a member of the sisterhood no woman wants to join. You’re on a journey to rebuild almost every aspect of your life. You don’t really have a choice about this. You will either rebuild or you will become the second victim of his death.

Each widow’s journey toward healing begins with the sacred sharing of her story. To have your story witnessed and held tenderly by another cracks open the dark recesses of your heart where you have kept your loss and pain hidden from view.

It can seem as though no one hears us when we are widowed. It can feel like no one is listening to you anymore. That simple sharing of life’s moments that you once took for granted is gone and a vast quiet takes over your life.

Yes, each widow has a story and I’d like to hear yours. But first, I want to tell you mine.

How many starfish try to be stingrays? Seriously, how much time does any given starfish, on any given coral reef, spend trying to be a stingray or a whale? Not much, right? Yet how many times a day do we try to be something we’re not? If I had a dollar for every time I’ve said to another woman, “Wow, I wish I had your hair!” I’d be a rich woman right now. I’d be a dang millionaire if I had a quarter for all the times I’ve envied another woman’s wardrobe, weight, lifestyle, or home décor. I’m not proud to tell you that, but it’s true.

Animals don’t do that. Animals just accept life for what it is. Wow. That’s a lot easier. So, the two wrens in my feeder today (that I’m pretty sure are about to become Mr. and Mrs.) are engaged in heavy courting. Right now, they’re feeding each other seeds and displaying their feathers. (She’s trying very hard to not be impressed.) But, it wouldn’t enter their minds to ask the crows nearby if one of them would like to make a nest. They’re wrens. They have tiny bodies and sharp beaks. They know what they’re about and they don’t waste any time trying to be a crow or a fox or a cat.

I think nature gives us a pretty good primer in self-ownership. If we try to be something we’re not, it probably isn’t going to work. No matter how hard we try, it just won’t work. (I can testify to this personally!) It won’t work because it’s not real. I’m a short, dark-haired Welsh woman with enough Cherokee to keep it interesting. I’m not a tall Nordic blond. I can wish that for myself, but I’ll never be that.

When we spend our time wishing things were different than they are, we’re wasting valuable self-time. And the fact of the matter is, God made us the way we are. We are enough, we are what we’re supposed to be. Until we accept what is, we will never grow into what truly can be. It’s only by accepting ourselves, all of ourselves (body type, IQ, innate gifts, life experiences, the whole shooting match!) that we live into who we are. And, who you are is actually pretty cool once you embrace it.

So, don’t waste another minute trying to be someone else. Become who you are and own that.

Are You Ready to be Healed

Jesus healed many people in his travels. But every now and then he asked them if they were ready to be healed. Now, as a child, this always puzzled me. Often these were people who were sitting near healing pools or at the city gates and they were obviously hurting. So, puzzlement was, “Why wouldn’t they want to be healed?” Seems simple enough, right?

But as I grew older and encountered my own demons and dis-eases the question returned to me again and again in my daily meditations. “Are YOU ready to be healed Donna Marie?” And one day I got it: We can become very addicted (literally) to our “dis-ease” and our wounded places and it’s hard to let them go.

We get a lot of attention when we’re sick (Remember how good that chicken soup and milk toast were when you got to eat them in bed?). Things really haven’t changed that much for most of us since childhood. When we trot out our hurt places, people tend to kiss our boo-boos. “He is always such a jerk now that we’re divorced! Why does he verbally abuse me like that?” Instead of, “Oh, you poor thing! Why does he do that?” maybe the question should be, “Why do you still allow him to do that? What are you getting from that?”

Now there’s a hard question to answer. And I’m not meaning to pick on divorced women here, since I’ve been one and done exactly that (And yes, he was a jerk.). But one day I realized that allowing him to engage with me that way let me hold onto the energy of our relationship a bit longer and dream of how things should have been different. When I finally accepted, sadly, that things had never been and would never be different, I stopped the next ugly conversation in its tracks and it never happened again. I didn’t need it anymore. I was ready to move forward into healing. It just took a while for me to get there.

At a certain point, holding onto our wounds is like walking on broken glass. My Dad used to say, “Don’t chew your cud, digest your life.” I mean, think about it this way: If you dropped a piece of china on a stone floor and it broke into twenty pieces, would you keep walking on the shards or sweep it up?

There is no way to avoid pain and sorrow in this life. It’s how we deal with, how we choose to heal or remain wounded, that determines how happy and productive we can be in spite of it. So, “Are you ready to be healed?” When the answer is yes, the healing begins!

 

Increase Your Personal Possibility!

I have spent this week at a lovely home on the Atlantic ocean on North Carolina’s Emerald Isle at a retreat for women retreat leaders. The setting is absolutely gorgeous (our week here is a gift to us from a patron of the religious arts) and we have an absolute blast! We cross-pollenate one another with inspiring ideas and art projects and mix our retreat sessions with long walks/talks on the beach before dinner each night. I wanted to share some of what we’ve done with you and invite you to try one of our retreat activities!

Our theme this year has been “possibility” and each of us leads a day of this retreat. The first day we created foil-lined “possibility hats” that offered us the chance to repel negative thoughts and influences and attract more of what we want in our lives.

Another day we explored what it means to be free and read the Declaration of Independence (wow!) and the original writings about the Statue of Liberty. We then drew our family trees and journaled about our family origins. (I have a bit of Cherokee, which explains my Asian-fold dark eyes, but mostly I’m Welsh by blood, so my “people” weren’t born here.)

We moved further into the turf of what it means to not only have corporate freedom but also personal freedom. Freedom from fear, anxiety, grief, destructive thoughts and behaviors, disease, and so on. Another retreat day focused on reframing negative self-language (exchanging “I can’t,” “I haven’t,” “We don’t” with “I can,” and “I will.”) THAT was really powerful process.

I don’t think anyone has more need of reframing language than widows do. Our lives change when our husbands die. To move forward as single women, we have to rebuild our ENTIRE lives. It’s challenging, it’s daunting at times, andmost of the time, it’s a lonely journey. And yet, we are still here. We have things to do with our lives and love to give to the world.

So, I want to invite you to try a really cool exercise in possibility from our retreat at the beach. Take a blank sheet of paper. On the left hand side, write down at least 5 things you think you can’t do or that you used to do or that you’d like to do but don’t think you can. (Use “I can’t, I won’t, I don’t know how to…” language.) Then, on the right hand side of the page, reframe your language about each of these things using proactive wording (I can, I will, I want to learn how to…). The more things you list, the more powerful the exercise becomes.

Just as we can strengthen our physical bodies and develop new muscle with exercise, we can increase our personal possibility by strengthening our minds and spirits. Changing (or reframing) the negative language we often use with ourselves to the positive language of “Yes, I can!” is a great way to just that!

 

Why Do Good People Suffer?

lentLent has begun. With an ashen cross smeared on my forehead, I have entered the time of contemplating suffering and sorrow and its role in our human condition as we remember the suffering and sacrifice of Jesus.

It’s not hard to find suffering and sorrow. You can walk to the nearest ICU and find it displayed against the white sheets , bright lights, and beeping monitors that are the company of those in twilight sleep. My best friend of all time is a critical care physician whose daily work takes place amidst the shock and pain. She speaks the language of suffering eloquently and tenderly, often delivering the hard news that no one is ever really prepared to hear.

There was an accident in my tiny town on Monday. The troopers were chasing a vehicle and the driver took our exit, blew past the sweet primary school where a few hours earlier kindergarteners with My Little Pony backpacks would have been waiting in line for their parents. The car erratically drove on, into the very heart of town and plowed into 5 vehicles before busting through the plate glass windows of the old-fashioned hardware store like a stunt driver in a B-grade movie.

T-boned in the melee was a young track coach at our local Christian college named Britten Olinger. A runner now turned paraplegic whose life is hanging by a thread. He has three dogs, a wife and a baby girl. “Lord! Where is the justice in life?” we cry out as the family takes crumpled naps on waiting room couches. I’ve slept on those same couches. It’s not any fun. Seconds take hours, hours take days, you eat from vending machines and keep your cell phone on. People call, but they don’t know what to say except, “I’m so sorry” and you don’t know what to say except, “Thank you.” The clocks in there are very loud.

Asking why good people suffer is an argument best left to the absurd. Understanding and giving thanks for each moment when we’re not suffering is where the lesson is.

So as the next 40 days unfold, sit in prayer with that family and all the others like them. Look for a way to do something helpful, think harder and then just do it. (You can use the link here to donate to help them make it through). And as you move through these next forty days, sit in utter gratitude that life includes both suffering and joy. The trick is to look for joy when and where you can because you never know what’s coming next, none of us do.

Another Father’s Day without the Father

Fathers day 1999Our son is 21. It’s hard to even wrap my mind around that fact. It seems like just yesterday he was a little tyke with chubby legs riding in the bike train with his Dad. He’s a grown man now, almost finished with college, but not finished with his grief.

His Daddy died five years ago but numbers don’t mean much to a wounded heart. Days like this one bring grief surging to the surface, like tsunamis after an earthquake. The initial shock followed by a vicious aftermath rising from below.

It’s always hard to know where the trigger will come from… It can be as simple as walking down the card aisle in the grocery store and seeing all the inane cards shouting out: “Happy Father’s Day to the World’s Best Dad!” He had one of those, but there’s no reason to buy him a card. Or he might get ambushed by the “Father’s Day Sale!” at Belks, and find himself with no one to buy a golf shirt for.  Or it may happen when other kids turn down pizza and a movie to cook hamburgers for their Dad.

It’s gonna happen. The grief trigger is going to get pulled, and pulled hard. So, what can you, as Mom, do?

It can be helpful to plan a ritual of remembrance. Even something as simple as a special breakfast with all his Daddy’s favorite foods where you share funny stories from years past. It takes the edge off. Or look at the movies that are playing to see which one his Dad would have liked and then going to see it and guessing what his favorite scene would have been.

Acknowledge it in some way or you’ll be living with an elephant in the room. A big one. One that can knock over furniture or say ugly things just because there’s a tsunami rising in their heart. Help them grieve in a healthy way: make a plan.

A Special Kind of Valentine

Valentine blog

A Special Kind of Valentine

In Memory of Perrin Todd

On any other Valentine’s Day I would have celebrated with red wine and roses, a nice meal out at a foodie’s kind of restaurant and opened a card with professionally written sticky-sweet sentiments. But this Valentines Day was different and somehow (don’t ask me how) I knew it would be our last.

My husband had celebrated New Year’s weekend in a stroke ICU and thank God for it, or he would not have survived January 1st. As February arrived, he was finally able to leave the hospital. But he couldn’t swallow very well or speak much and his right side was clumsy and slow to move. His mischievous grin was lopsided now, which somehow only made it more endearing. His huge, deep-blue eyes had captivated me the first time I saw him without his coke-bottle glasses. It was like watching Clark Kent turn into Super Man when he took them off. They had always sparkled with wit and deep intelligence but now they were soft and tender, almost like those of a child.

When we went to his PT appointment that day, the office was filled with sparkling hearts, everywhere you looked there were sparkling hearts. Hearts hung from the ceiling, were taped to every counter, and adorned every door to the therapy rooms. It was a little over the top, in the way school rooms and nursing homes often are. s we waited for his therapist, he was fascinated by them. He watched the ones on the ceiling spin slowly on their strings; grinned at the one that had a face, hands and arms; giggled at the big puffy one on the receptionist’s counter.

When he was called back for his therapy, he turned and looked at them again with utter bewilderment and a remorseful expression, which confused me. No, it didn’t confuse me, it disturbed me. It was damned hard to be the caregiver, the one still aware of what the heck was going on. Caring for him after the stroke was often frightening, usually frustrating and utterly exhausting. It wasn’t his fault, it was what it was, I didn’t blame him. But, I knew I wasn’t going to get roses, or red wine or a Valentine that year. Forget the dinner out, he couldn’t swallow anything but mush and I wasn’t up for another medical emergency. I think you could say I was feeling sorry for myself as I spent yet another hour in a clinical waiting room while work piled up on my desk.

But when the therapist brought him out, he was smiling. Smiling really wide with his big, lopsided grin. “Look! Hearts!” he said, waving his clumsy, still somewhat paralyzed right hand toward the ceiling. “Yes,” I said, “They’re Valentines…” He nodded vigorously and then he blew me a kiss with both hands and, enunciating the careful way he had been taught in therapy, said, “All… yours.” He gestured to every single heart in the room and said, “All… yours… wife!”

I excused myself to cry in the bathroom (I did that a lot after the stroke) and then on the way home I stopped and bought a basket of strawberries and a pint of Ben & Jerry’s vanilla ice cream. I was determined to celebrate the day somehow! When we got home, I took one of the many blenders that smushed up his food and made us strawberry smoothies. We drank them together on the couch and I swear to you they were the tastiest things I had ever had for Valentine’s Day. He held my hand and slurped in satisfaction, gazed at me with his soft blue eyes and said when he’d sucked his glass dry, “I… love… you, wife.”

And that was the day I knew that no matter what happens to us in life, it’s love that keeps us going. No matter how hard life is for you today, hang onto the love because in the end, it’s all that’s real. Let love keep you going! Happy Valentines Day!

Widows Survival Guide to the Holidays

A Widow’s Guide to Surviving the Holidays Booklet Survival Guide Cover for Web copyWidows have a hard time at the holidays. Navigating all the deep water of family events, church and social situations while avoiding grief triggers is really tough. I’ve put together a free resource with a worksheet and checklists you can use to think through what you want your holiday season to look like, provided coping strategies and wrapped it all up with a story about our first holiday without my husband.

A Widow’s Survival Guide to the Holidays is attached here as a pdf and it comes with my best wishes for a meaningful holiday season!

Grief is Hard at the Holidays!

Thanksgiving

When the person you knew and loved is dead and gone, only memories of them remain. So a widow is wise to focus on the good ones.

My first Thanksgiving with my husband Perrin is good one, a daisy chain of funny memories. We were on our honeymoon. We picked Branson, MO., for its cheap condos, assuming it was a sleepy little Ozark mountain town only to find ourselves surrounded by garish wall-to-wall, country-music and country-themed tourist traps of a decidedly hick variety: Our love-boat had landed in a hillbilly Las Vegas. I kept waiting for Granny and Jethro to show up.
Our “fully equipped condo” was lacking a few things, too. When we called to complain we got an answer message that said the condo management was unavailable due to preparations for the opening day of gun season. The condo didn’t look like the one in the brochure, either. Instead of a kitchen, it had a two-burner hot plate. And the hot tub wasn’t on a deck overlooking the mountains; it was on a tiny balcony that looked like it might collapse on the motorcycles in the parking lot at any minute. When my husband got in the tub and tried to turn it on, the switch belched and sparked. Since I didn’t want fried husband for a holiday meal, we gave up on this sexy together time in favor of a creek walk, where I promptly lost my balance on a slick mossy rock. I had my own wet T-shirt contest and managed to sprain my ankle rather badly, all at the same time. When he realized this wasn’t funny, he drove me to the local doctor’s office, but was also closed for deer season. This is how I came to have an Ace bandage as a wedding gift.
Since we didn’t have an oven, and I was now walking with a hand-carved Ozark cane, my fantasy of cooking him our first Thanksgiving turkey was also screwed. So we went for a drive on the strip to find a restaurant that was open on Thanksgiving. A feat we discovered is nearly impossible in a town that covets deer season almost as much as country music. The only restaurant that was not only open, but looked like it might actually have something we would eat, was the Aussie Outback Steakhouse.
Which is how we ended up listening to box-car-load-full-of-heartache country songs and eating deep-fried crocodile fingers that Thanksgiving.
Yep. The holidays are here – hold onto what is good and let the rest of it go.