For my clients who taught me courage…

I have lived a blessed life, seriously. Being a psychologist for over 25 years has allowed me the privilege to travel many a road with beautiful people. I have been invited into the darkest corners of people’s lives, and with each invitation felt blessed. The world is good. And the darkest corners ended up filled with light.

I feel much more comfortable being in the role of Helper, hell, it’s safe. Being in the role of needing help, feeling terrified, and not so secure is a weird damn place to be. Helpers have a sense of power, the helpee has that sense of personal terror.

Tomorrow I make my plan. I talk to the surgeon. And, you know what, I am taking the strength and courage of every soul I ever walked with as they approached their own personal terror.

I thank all of you who allowed me, trusted me and generously invited me to walk your Terror Walk…your strength will see me through.

I always believed having the honor of being a psychologist was the greatest gift anyone gave me. And now, I call on your strength and bravery and personal courage to see me through.

Thank you all for teaching me Courage.

Witnessing the transformation and honoring The Girls

I like really being pissed off. I do pissed off well. Pissed off-ness motivates me, takes me away from my heart center and focuses on outside demons, rather than inner goblins.

i love my doctor…I love most people whom I respect…Meeting with him yesteday, learning about this Cancer…made me feel scared, secure and more detached.I felt like he had my back…he and his colleague, The Super Surgeon, would magically make everything fine. Somehow the high of denial started to fade as I left his office. I asked appropriate questions, he responded with appropriate sassy replies. Me with my notebook and provocative questions….knowing that I had to trust this man,  because he is trustworthy and in my mind, the only game in town. I asked for anti anxiety meds. I am scared…and not very evolved.and I need meds to get thru this.

He and I decided, yes, surgery, ASAP to take care of what needs to be done. Both agreeing the Chosen Surgeon would be awesome. Deciding to cancel the one event I have been looking so forward to for over a year. Camp Widow. I don’t have lots of opportunities to make “a difference” but speaking about hope is one HUGE high for me. The Camp I attended as a participant last year and thought, I can make a difference. I can offer hope.

I wanted to be there next weekend on the anniversary of Rob’s death to shout out, YOU WILL SURVIVE.

And then, a mere 5 days ago getting a Cancer diagnosis. And as each day passed thinking about the choices I had to face  over the next few weeks…months….the unknown and the aloneness became pretty daunting…the unknown is never welcome, at least not to me. With anxiety, I like order. I like predictiblity

I decided the RIGHT THING to do would be to miss out on the opportunity to share my hope…to see the light of hope in hopeless eyes…and canceled my opportunity to speak to the widows who come to Camp Widow. The widows I met last year, the widows I have come to love on line. A chance and yet a LifeLine cut, to take care of business. The business of Cancer. A lonely business.

Made the decision. Felt it was right, but knew the nurturing I would be missing from the weekend. Knowing that the weekend was about widows and their challenges and NOT about me and the nurturing I would have sucked up like a dry sponge.

Dumb me in preparation for recuperation I begin making calls and plans. Attempting to find a house cleaner, a yard fixer upper…the list is long. Lists eliminate anxiety. So, in search for new sheets ( another part of the agenda) I made the mistake of going into Macy’s today. Yup. Was planning for a new set of sheets so that when I return home to heal I will have sheets that feel good, fit well, and are pleasing to the eye and DO NOT COME UNDONE IN THE MIDDLE OF THE NIGHT. But, on the way to seeing the sheets, I walked through the children’s clothing department. The tears started. I know that I have a Cancer that is NOT LIFE THREATENING. I understand that intellectually. I know my body will  be physically changed, my right breast is still bruised from the biopsy from last week. I know psychically I will never be the same. And, I know I occupy a lonely place where I am confronting myself. A place where I meet myself…alone…face to face

But there in the silly kids section all I could think of was Rian, Alex and Max and Mason. Rian and Alex lost their biological mother to an aggressive form of breast cancer as toddlers and Jess has adopted them as her own. I have adopted them as my own. And, then I think of little Max who is fond of calling me Chicken Nugget ( why ? hell,he’s 2 1/2? ) and I call him Monkey Butt….and little Mason….who has that glimmer in his eye as we catch that special moment. That moment where we share that special Gammie and grandson bond. And the tears discreetly fall…and I leave Macy’s…forget about sheets. The one’s I have will work in spite of the fact they don’t fit quite right. I . must. not.cry. in. Macy’s.

So yes, today sucked…the reality of what “could be” seemed foremost. My wise and sensitive daughters sent me a care package with treats only they know about….a stuffed Monkey (representing  Monkey Butt, powdered sugar donuts, snicker bar and of course multiple tubes of lipstick and body lotion….they get it.

It’s challenging to be in this space right now. And, yet, I realize that this is indeed what this journey is about.

Tonight I am in Sandpoint , Idaho waiting to watch Big Bill perform an amazing feat of swimming a 1 3/4 mile open water swim…And praying that as I watch the swim I will indeed photograph BILL and not some random middle aged man with bald head beard rocking a Speedo. I have a job. I will perfom

Yet,at the same time thinking, this may be the last weekend I have my breast I have known for 61 years. For  as soon as next week,  it will be altered. The breast that has had a life of it’s own…has breast feed two beautiful girls, has either pleased or displeased me depending on how it filled out a shirt . dress or God forbid a bathing suit. A breast that has experienced sexual experiences and has stories to tell about how She was treated…so many stories. I will bid that breast or a part of that breast goodbye, soon. Not completely, I hope, but certainly THE GIRL will not be the same. She will be forever changed and her history will somehow be changed as well.

Certainly shouldn’t there be a brass band, or a sacred ceremony when we alter a body part which has served us well. Shouldn’t there be a group of people surrounding us with love, compassion and understanding about what a change like that symbolizes? Should THE GIRL be honored for all she has brought not only to herself but  to others?

I have some time to ponder this very existential question. And, I honor my feminist sisters who taught me years ago that I matter and that indeed my Breasts Matters….

And I hope to pass this honoring to the young women who follow me…

Never deny that which defines who we are as women. Never diminish the importance of a transformation that occurs to The Girls.

Rats, no karmic pass…

WTF, breast cancer. Are you joking? Universe, now you are really screwing with me. Really? Seven years ago this month, I lost my husband. Now, 7 years later this month I get the news…breast cancer.

Wow, the games I have played with the Universe since becoming a widow. Belief one…the worst thing that could possibly happen would be to lose a spouse–well no, the worst would be to lose a child. Okay, so I lost not only a spouse, I lost a beloved dog, a bunch of friends, family members and colleagues. I was one tear-assed angry widow…In August 2005 I got my karmic card punched…I was now free. I get to pass go. I get to collect $200. There was a cloak of invincibility around me and the people I loved. I survived, thrived and made it through. Hell, at times I felt like I even got the golden ring…Hey, I did. I found a new partner who loved and embraced me and my kids. A partner who tolerated my emotional chaos and physical messes. A partner who understood and met my hurt and anger at the people who vanished because they couldn’t handle the gut-busting pain that was part of my daily life. My partner, who embraced my lack of attention to detail, my  obliviousness to my environment. My partner, who didn’t expect me to be polite or appropriate in the face of being nuked by emotional napalm which was so freely lobbed by those I trusted, but those who wanted me to play nice in an emotional war zone.

Grief is messy, if real…not smooth…not predictable.

Grief literature confirms that widows/widowers frequently have a health crisis following the death of a spouse. Often, that crisis occurs within 3 to 4 years following the loss. Yup, I did that. I got pneumonia–a wicked case of pneumonia. Spent close to 3 weeks in the hospital filled up with lots of antibiotic cocktails…couldn’t walk, couldn’t really talk without coughing. Carried home an IV machine and had IV meds delivered every 8 hours by my Sweet Bill. In the meantime the pressure to “get better” was enhanced by my oldest daughter’s upcoming dream wedding in Lanai, Hawaii.

Pulled off  “Mom of the Bride”…recovered from pneumonia…routine set in. Yearly dental check ups…yearly mammograms…you know the drill.

Hate mammograms. Religiously get them. Hate the technician, except when I get the young, sassy one who is as comfortable heaving my boobs around as I am. But, no, for the 2012 mammogram I got a Nurse Ratched type. Should have known…this did not bode well.

Mammogram done. Off to a wonderful trip with my third daughter and her groovy husband. Big Sur country, no phones, sleeping in the redwoods, eating green food and Esalen bread. Feasting and dreaming of a future of reading and writing and evolving into all that we can be.

Got home. Reality bit. No postcard from the hospital. Nope, instead a self-addressed stamped envelope. Bad news. All women know that the envelope means a call back. And not the good theatrical call back; the bad, oh shit, kind a call back. Boobs will be smushed again.

SO, back I went. Serious radiologist, super well trained. He knew his script. He knew how to show empathy. He knew the words to use. He was trained and well practiced. 80% benign, 20% questionable…all early detection, all treatable…nothing to really worry about, but something to follow up on. You need to go to a larger hospital where they have the right equipment.

Drive for 1 1/2 hours to a modern day “torture chamber.” A stereotactic machine(a marvel really). Lying 10 feet up in the air on my stomach, with my boob hanging down into the air above the radiologist’s head. “We will numb the area, computer generate the area to be biopsied, extract samples then repeat the mammogram. You will feel some pressure.” Memories of my proper but sassy grandma giving me permission to say “damn” when I got a shot of antibiotics as a 6-year-old came flooding back. However, this  time I evolved to saying MF and the lab tech and the doc applauded. They were good folks.

I knew then something was not right. But the waiting began…4 days, maybe more.

Monday morning going to Safeway to buy flowers and a card for my primary care doc and his nurse as a bribe to call me when the results are in. I am nothing if not manipulative when I want what I want. And I wanted to KNOW. I have plans. I have a killer talk to give at Camp Widow in San Diego in a week. I also got a drop dead gorgeous dress to wear to the festivities. Going to San Diego, getting to spend the evening with Bill and two good long-term friends. All of that so fragile, so temporal, so elusive. I needed to know.

Phone rings. Ductal in situ (the good kind of breast cancer or pseudo breast cancer–as if there is a good kind). Treatment, lumpectomy and radiation…and this is your life. WAIT a minute THIS is not supposed to happen to me. I got screwed majorly once by the universe–and now twice? Really?

And then broadcasting the news on Facebook to friends, NOT wanting to manage the terror by myself. Not being able to bear the quiet fear that I would cease to exist. If I shared the pain with others, perhaps it wouldn’t hurt so bad. Perhaps their outrage would balance my terror. Perhaps they too would howl at the moon and scream, “This is not fair!” Perhaps I would not be so alone, so lonely.

So now the decisions begin. Eat whole grains and greens, juice, meditate, walk, run, yoga…oxygenate your body, stay away from toxic people and places. Care for yourself. Take supplements. The radiation will fry your skin. Journal…and suddenly, I feel the transformation beginning…I am morphing into CANCER WOMAN. Does that bottle contain BPA? Have I had my Miso soup today? Wait, was that organic lettuce….And my sense of self begins to shrink. Was that SPLENDA you put in that tea? I look longingly at “I am Really Not A Waitress” OPI nail polish and think, “Oh, shit…not organic.” AND, what about the well water we drink? Is the well water safe? And yes, I love onion rings, but will that onion ring kill me? And, my beloved wine….and suddenly my life takes on this sense of “preciousness” this sense of caution, this sense of living in a Bell Jar. I may live forever, but is that living? Or rather, is that living for BETH? The Beth that will try anything once. The Beth that chewed tobacco and hated it, but HAD to try it? The Beth that loves eating greasy pizza dipped in ranch. The Beth that at times MUST.HAVE.McDonalds Diet Coke. Shoot me now, people, because THAT is who I am. Not all of who I am But the free spirit, slightly naughty, very irreverent…. The me I so desperately love. The part of me I refuse to lose.

I have never been on a diet for more than 3 hours and 20 minutes, because if I can’t, I want. Tell me not to, and that’s what I want to do.

So tomorrow I go in all grown up and ready to face my doctor. Having been a psychologist for 20 years, I’m not scared or intimidated by the docs at all. Quite the contrary. And, I am going to say, I want to live, I want to be healthy. I want to dance and sing and be silly and one day go on an African Safari with my 4 grandchildren. I want that more than I want a regime that will shrink me. That will make me less me.

I am pissed and I am terrified. And, once again I am mad that my husband, Rob, died. I spoke to my dearest advisor today. And she said, do you know that many woman contract breast cancer 7 years following a trauma? Rob died in 2005. You do the math. Am I mad and scared and afraid my identity will be taken from me? You bet.

An Outrageous DYI Casket: Unspeakable loss leads to Creativity

What a creative family can do in the face of unspeakable loss

Rob went in for same day sinus surgery–you know, the easy-peasy outpatient nose reaming so many people get? Well, he was dead 12 hours later. The grief the girls and I experienced was palpable. We had never been through this rodeo before. So, what emerged was an incredible sense of determination to thrive through this loss. Clearly what emerged were our strengths…curiosity, sense of humor, and a deep sense of knowing what Rob would have wanted.

Months before, his elderly aunt had passed and he made me promise that when he died spending money on a casket would be foolish. So, he wanted the simplest (translate cheapest) casket available. Through a comedy of errors, the young man overseeing the details at the mortuary had quite a sense of humor and a willingness to bend the rules. His ring tone was the theme from Six Feet Under. Get the picture ?

So when we requested the casket be delivered to our home, Rob was still in the hospital having his organs harvested because he fully believed in organ donation (another one of his marvelous strengths).  The substitute funeral director thought that might be a cool idea.

The casket was delivered. We all channeled Rob and wondered what would be the most appropriate way we could honor his outrageously marvelous and courageous spirit. So, we brought out a boom box, blared heavy metal music (along with a mix of Dire Straits, U2 , Emmy Lou and Johnny Cash). We set about with paints and fabric and decorated his final resting spot.

Then, we sent him off with objects which would accompany him on his journey (much as the Chinese do). A friend supplied a Davy Crockett hat, we threw in his cell phone, a teddy bear, Lindsey’s cozy blanket, probably a book or two, a pen, a tool of some sort and of course, a 5 lb can of decaf coffee (he had given up alcohol years before).

Our friend came and picked up the loaded casket and took it back to the mortuary. We later learned he had been fired for the breach 0f protocol. He broke the rules, but, what the hell? He allowed us to do what we needed to do to mourn and celebrate.

Rules? There are no rules to grief. There are no rules to abide by. Your job: get through it in the best way you know how. If protocol helps, by all means abide by protocol. But if you need to break those bounds, by all means break them.

Were we bad ? Were we disrespectful ? Certainly–to some. But for us we were true to the Rob we knew and loved, the Rob who broke the boundaries and wanted nothing more than for each of us to be true to ourselves.

 

 

Asshats, once a widow always a widow !

I love to curse, I really do. And, I have to admit I do it really well and fairly creatively. I blame it on my Dad. He was a WWII vet and was an awesome “swearer guy.” I loved him and wanted to be edgy,witty and funny like he was…cursing was a big part of that. However, it is certainly a tad disarming to hear a 60 year old woman curse like a WWII veteran. I have tried to stop, but alas, I haven’t been able to curb my tongue completely. I can control it, like now, although I would rather let a stream of invectives fly , but I will self regulate.

My house is a disaster. A new roof is being installed. 60,000 lbs of gravel is being removed. The inside of my home is covered in plastic sheeting. Zee Zee Top lookalikes are pounding, shoveling, and sweeping over my head all the while listening to some really interesting music and smoking. Cigarettes.

I leave in the morning for Boulder to do an Ageless Grace training. I am embarking on building a studio on our property for my positive psychology coaching business as well as an Ageless Grace practice. I have a list a mile long of things which HAVE to be done before I drive to the airport at dawn tomorrow, BUT I am really mad. Wait. Really mad  doesn’t ring true, does it ? I am PISSED OFF.

When Rob died in 2005 there wasn’t much available for widows on the internet. Living in a small town and being a relatively young widow ( 54 years old) I found I wanted support from other widows. I really wanted a Widow Mentor.  I turned to the internet. I found some support from an AARP group and some support from GRROW, but at that time there was no Soaring Spirits Loss Foundation. Hell, there wasn’t even Facebook. So I vowed then that I would continue to speak to and for widows for as long as I could. I started this blog DO NOT GRIEVE ALONE in 2007 from that same Heart Space…I wanted widowed people to have someplace to go in the wee hours of the morning. I wanted a place where Old widows could mentor New widows.

What have a learned on this Widow Walk ? There’s some real “poopy” widowed people out there ( see, it doesn’t really work.) And, also some awesome ones. It’s the poopy people who have me stirred up today.

Stay with me.

A year or so ago I was asked to join a “closed” group for widows on Facebook. I was active on the fb page for about a week and suddenly I was blocked. I was  perplexed. I wrote an earlier post about this debacle, but I could never figure out why I was removed. Of course the Widowed ? cowards who originally invited me to join wouldn’t respond to my request for information. Figures. I had been positive, encouraging, and was offering Hope. My message ? Life can and does get better. I delivered the message I so desperately wanted to hear when I was newly widowed . I assumed that I was voted off the island because I was just a little too perky, a little too positive ( hellloooo, I am trained as a coach and a “positive psychologist” people, that’s what I flippin’ ( you know what that stands for ) DO. I think I now know why I was axed.

I have been participating on another Facebook closed group for widows for a while. Again, with the status of being widowed for almost 7 years ( old timer ), happily remarried ( not common ) and having met Bill on Match.com ( gross !) I hung in there trying to ignore the negative B.S. :-), but yesterday after the day I had, I quit. I was offended, hurt and royally “mad” that somehow I wasn’t considered a widow to some of these “nitwits.”

Now to yesterday ( Thank God my English professor husband is out of town and won’t have the opportunity to proof read this rambling rant.)

Back to the roof.  A skylite was knocked off the roof yesterday and gravel and “old roof” starting falling into the house. The crew left and I realized the skylite had not been replaced. ( I failed to notice that they had tarped the roof ) I had visions of rain and lots of it . So, being rather resourceful I went into the garage to get a step ladder. I couldn’t reach the ceiling where the skylite needed to go.

I became enraged. Absolutely enraged. I started crying…I threw and broke two cheapo plastic clocks in the garage, and I found myself crying and screaming in fury at ROB. I was shocked. I hadn’t been THAT ” angry widow ” in forever. But there I was literally screaming and throwing sh*t and yelling at Rob for dying. I shocked my own self.

It was then I realized. Once a widow, always a widow. Happily and delightfully married to a Prince of A Man, but still on some level furious at Rob for dying. Go figure. I was Chicken Little…I assume my response had something to do with Rob’s ability to fix things and the skylite falling would have been no big thang had he been alive.

I made the mistake of grabbing a diet coke and checking into Facebook. And started to read yet again the same old dialogue of who is REALLY considered a widow in the closed facebook group. I snapped. I realized that it was clear I no longer wanted to be part of that group. I failed to meet the criterion established by some of the more vocal, complaining, neurotic,whack job women of the group. Don’t you know how the most strident and angry-depressives of a group hijack the discussion ? And, with many in the group being “nice women” none of them dare call out any of The Widow Bullies.

According to some in the widowed community anyone who remarries has  committed the SIN of REMARRIAGE . And once remarried – no longer widowed. WTF ? Yeah, remarriage is like ” tossing away the memory of your late husband like a cruel person  would abandon a puppy.” That is an honest-to-God real statement from one of those P00py People. For Reals.

Bet you didn’t know about other sins which remove you from the Club Nobody wants to join. Did you know if someone’s life partner dies, you are not a widow ! Bet you also didn’t know if your partner dies and happens to be the same gender, you, too are not a widow ! And really, the unspoken rule is that only a Military Widow is the real deal. I could go on and on and on with absurd rules some of the Lunatic Fringe of the widowed community carry on about, but no need.

I sat at my desk eerily still.  I experienced a calm as I allowed my Codependent Delusional Beth-Self   to take flight.  I abandoned the desire to cheerlead these women into leading productive, positive and meaningful lives IN SPITE of being widowed. I wrote a clear exit statement to the group. I welcomed anyone who wanted to stay in touch to read my blog, or friend me on facebook.

Fuck it. Life is too short. My Superwoman cape is tattered and torn.

Camp Widow West…A Camping we shall go…A camping we shall go

Calendar Dates and Widows…dates and times and widows. I am better. I am a moving-toward-the-future widow. Know why? I have conquered the “date thing.” Rob died on August 10/11, 2005, however you count it. I count it as the 10th because that’s when the surgeon punctured his brain. The death certificate counts it as August 11 because that’s when they removed life support. BUT, the point is, Camp Widow West takes place in San Diego on August 10 through the 12th this year. I have been so focused on going and presenting at this conference that I truly forgot the significance of the date. To me it was a date to share hope, to make new friends, and to spread the word that life gets better.

I have come a long way. I remember at one point counting how many hours it had been since he died. I remember another point counting the days since he died. I remember counting the minutes, hours, months and years. And now, I just have lots of good memories of a life well lived. And, Camp Widow West was the acid test.

When I got my acceptance email for my presentation, that’s when it hit. For a split second, I felt quilty. How could I ever see the date AUGUST 10 and not immediately remember the pain and agony that accompanied that fateful day. Instead, I was happy to think I will be able to share with other widows that life can and does get better. I get to be living proof that a lot can happen in 7 years.

And, what’s better yet ? I get to share my journey of resilience.

Check out this YouTube from Camp Widow 2011

More information: Camp Widow West 2012 http://www.campwidow.org/

The Widow Card

My daughters gave me about a year to play The Widow Card. I played it hard and I played it well. I would slap that card down on the table whenever things did not go my way. When Visa was hassling me about a late payment, when I was put at the back of the line for a needed home repair, when I got scheduled later than I thought I should be scheduled for a doctor’s appointment. The Widow Card and I became mighty allies.

There was a big danger in playing the Widow Card. The Widow Card also enabled me to play the role of Victim. I quickly began defining myself in a one-down, less-than way. I truly believed that since I had been so cosmically SCREWED, that I was entitled to better treatment. I began to see my Widow Status as a way to move to the front of the line, a way to suggest that the rules certainly didn’t apply to me because, after all, I had been widowed.

That Widow Card ultimately did me no favors. It never really moved me to the front of any line. It never gave me passage where others didn’t go. Instead, the Widow Card reinforced my own sense of powerlessness and hopelessness. Upon being widowed I set aside my competent self and instead relied on my  “poor me” status to get me things that I thought the World Owed Me because after all….I HAD BEEN LEFT.

Yes, being widowed is a drag. Yes, having life turned on its side is no picnic. But, discovering personal strength can be a by product of such a life event. This is not to suggest there is no room for grief–indeed not–but at what point does playing that Widow Card prolong the grief and prevent moving forward ?

Interesting dialogue between widows about getting rid of stuff:

Widow Card: These were his workboots.

Concerned Friend: But, they have been in the doorway for 2 years.

Widow Card: They were HIS I can’t get rid of them.

Concerned Friend: But, you have other special things of his, these boots block the door way.

Widow Card: No One UNDERSTANDS….you just expect me to toss his boots and his memory away like a dead mouse.

So, the friend leaves discouraged, the widow is left feeling justifyably misunderstood.

As women we do a good job of supporting our friend where she is and how she defines herself. Might we not do ourselves and our friends a better service if we challenge that self definition if that definition indeed is limiting? If the boots are  blocking entry into the house and our dear friend cannot see that, don’t we owe her a reminder that instead of building a shrine that blocks the door, she might want to create an open space so that new energy may come in?

Yes, leaving behind the Widow Card can be a sad sad state of affairs. My daughters finally both threw down on me and I agreed to let that Widow Card go. Unbeknownst to me, I found that I rather liked giving up The Card that represented victimhood and instead donning a Cape of Competence that enabled me to soar….

 

 

The Widows’ Bond : Duct Tape Meets Its Match

Love Facebook, really do. Love catching up with friends, sharing adventures and learning new stuff. This morning I learned something I hate learning. A friend of mine from junior high school posted that she became a widow a week ago. The club no one wants to join. She had married her husband recently and now, well, now he’s gone and she’s joined  THE Club.

I take great comfort because she is in a tightly knit religious community known for active and consistent support for church members. A solid faith tradition which is based on community, so for that I am thankful.

Funny how as I read those words I flashed back to water skiing with her when we were 13 years old. Her family had taken me along on an all day waterskiing adventure at the Salton Sea. I came home exhausted, sun burned and fulfilled after a day long journey with my beautiful friend and her loving family. Could we even have imagined as young girls we would both end up widowed at a young age ?

She never left Southern California and I haven’t seen her in years, but one of my instant thoughts was, I must go there and see her. That’s the widows’ bond. Recently I spent four hours at another widow’s home; I had lost touch with her after graduate school and life intervened for both of us. But, when I heard of her loss nothing could keep me from that widow visit.

I know right now I could post a message on multiple group websites and my childhood friend would be inundated with messages of compassion, support and encouragement. Because, well, that’s how we widows roll. The bond of losing a spouse is tight and crosses all traditional bounds.

Upon seeing her message, I was speechless…now that’s a new one ! All of a sudden the things NOT to say flashed before me. Don’t say, “ It’s God’s will “;  “ You weren’t married THAT long “;  “ At least he’s no longer suffering.” Those may be things NOT to say, but what are the things to say?

Left speechless, I posted  “ I am heartbroken.” That’s all. That was all I had in me at that moment. Tonight I will mull over my next step, but I will be back because that’s how I roll.

So, the take away ? The widowed community is a force to be reckoned with. Indeed, when one widow reaches out to another, she will get more love, care and tending than she  may even want. Because, like duct tape, the bond created is strong. There are no words that need to be exchanged between widows because WE KNOW.

Funny, when I give presentations to widows’ groups, I feel awesome. Awesome because I have “street cred.” I have watched non-widows present grief information to widows and, well, the result is not pretty. Indeed one who has not been there may have the academic or book knowledge, but something more is required. Something that can only be felt by experience. I am fortunate to have both. I am thankful for the book learning about grief and the credentials of a psychologist, but I am completely aware that my status as a widow gives me more than all the books and learning in the world. The scars we all bear. The experiences we all share bond us.

Like duct tape.

 

Widows: Write…Right Now !

Ready? Set? Go!…find that pen, pencil, keyboard and get to work. James Pennebaker, PhD conducts fascinating research on the power of writing to heal. Yes, to heal. His original research on writing and healing from trauma suggested you only need to write for 4 days, 20 minutes a day to receive some easing of the pain from trauma–and long-term health benefits as well. Shoot, that’s 80 minutes total. I can play Draw Something or Words with Friends for more than 80 minutes without blinking an eye. And, I can attest that there’s no real potential for healing from those activities :-)

Not one of us would disagree that losing a spouse is a traumatic event, so why not give this exercise a try? If writing for 20 minutes a day over a 4-day period has been documented as increasing well-being, we have nothing to lose.

I am going to add a few constraints to this “assignment ” (there’s always a bit of a hitch). I have morphed some of the research findings and as a result I am suggesting the following:

1. Write about your loss from the standpoint of being a seasoned widow/widower providing advice for someone newly widowed. The research is pretty clear that just venting, spewing or whining is not as constructive as taking a more objective approach to personal trauma.

2. Get your materials ready and set a timer for 20 minutes. Sit down and write to your new widow friend for 20 minutes. No judgment. When you are finished, put your work away and get ready for tomorrow’s writing time. Repeat for 3 days. Make sure that your critical gremlin, or Grammar Nazi is no where to be found. Just write. Some of you will know this as freewriting. Just keep writing.

3. After your 4 days of writing are over, assess how you feel. Do a gut check. Question if there was any “downside” to this exercise. If not, think about how this could be a new part of a regular ritual for you. Heavens knows most of us widows/widowers spend plenty of time obsessing about our loss. How about setting aside some time for constructive re-framing ?

There are lovely journals available now. A trip to the office supply store is fun to find that special pen or pencil to use in a enjoyable and constructive way. There are also plenty of random pieces of paper waiting to be filled by your insights. Whatever your personal style, go ahead, explore.

Blogging resources are everywhere on the internet. When I began this blog in 2007 there didn’t appear to be many widow blogs online. Now it seems that many widows are blogging. Check out WordPress, or Google’s Blogger; these resources are free and very easy to work with. Blog designs are now very user friendly. Try something new; you deserve to be distracted from your loss in a positive way.

Write with the idea that this is part of your journey toward healing. Write things that you have not talked about. One of my favorite healing exercises is to hold “burning rituals” where I burn my writing and then save the ashes to work into the soil in my garden  (No wonder I love the Phoenix as a symbol).

After loss, so many of us keep the memories, images, and feelings locked away. Why not release them to the cosmos ? Why not let go of those images that seem forever burned into our brains? Why not share those images with a safe Imaginary Widow Friend with the hope that by doing so we both will be healed?

Go ahead….try it…4 days, 80 minutes total.

Feel free to share with us your results !

 

Widows Beware : Facebook Can Mess with Your Head

Wow, what a trip it’s been.

Last spring I was invited to join a closed Facebook group. I didn’t even know there was such a thing as an “invite only” facebook group. Even though I was re-married, I was pleased to be there for other widows. I had been widowed 6 years before, was happily re-married and felt I could offer hope to women who were newly widowed. I wanted to show that we can survive and thrive! I was a testament to that. I wanted to share that life can get better following the devastating loss of a spouse.

After about one week, I was dropped from the group. Dropped in that I attempted to post, but could not get into the group. Of course I didn’t want to take it personally, but I did. I reached out to the woman who initially invited me, but she never responded. I  assumed that my positivity was not welcomed. Until I hear otherwise that makes about as much sense as any of it.

Clearly this was a group which was invested in owning and maintaining “widow status. ” If other group members expressed feelings about moving forward, they were quickly shamed. In fact, one woman became downright hostile when a group member asked about dating. She accused her of treating her late husband as if he was a puppy being forgotten and discarded.

I met another widow months later who had also been in that group. Apparently there were two women in the group who were scamming the other women into sending one of the women money because she was in bad financial shape. The one woman played “poor me” the other woman cajoled the group into sending her money–any amount would do. YIKES! I was astounded to realize how naive I could be. I really believe people are honest and direct–ESPECIALLY widows.

Facebook can be a powerful and wonderful resource. But we have to check how we feel about what is happening on any Facebook group. If the group shames you, dismisses your ideas, or moves in a direction which doesn’t sit right, listen to and trust your insight.

Once you find them, stay with Facebook groups which are reputable. Groups that come to mind include: Hope for Widows, Widowed Village, Soaring Spirts Foundation and WCESS ( Widowed Community Education and Support Services).In fact, if something sketchy occurs online, go ahead and contact one of these groups and check out your perceptions. These groups are the “real deal.”

Also, I learned that there are Facebook predators who prey on women who either belong to bereavement groups or widow groups. Be careful. Many women list “widow” as their relationship status on Facebook. Just be aware that there are trolls out there who seek out and find widows. Fortunately, groups like Hope for Widows now list those “trolls” by name and report them to Facebook. That’s the kind of support we need to offer one another.

Remember: You are not alone…reach out, it works!

WHO IS BETH? AND WHAT DOES SHE OFFER?