Archive for December, 2008

How Can I Be Merry?
Wednesday, December 24th, 2008

This is the fourth Christmas I have spent without Phil. I find that fact almost incomprehensible. Where has the time gone? How do I begin to count the things that have happened in my life since his death? The kids have grown several inches, our families have grown and changed, our house is different in many ways, and I put up the Christmas lights in record time (I am getting good at it!)…and all of these things are bittersweet. Life has changed in a variety of ways, and yet Phil is still dead. He gets the updates about our lives via my heart-to-heart chats with him, but there are now other people who get the updates, too. There are many parts of Christmas that remind me of him, of us, of a life that is no longer…sometimes the memories make me laugh, and other times they make me cry and there are still days when I shake my head in wonder that Phil is not coming through the front door any minute.

So how can I be merry? How do I savor a life that Phil isn’t sharing? When do the memories cease being haunting? I can only answer for myself…and what I have found is that knowing that Phil is forever in my heart gives me the comfort I need to have a different life. Things aren’t what they once were. I am no longer naive to the concepts of death, grief, devastation, and despair. Meeting these dark companions has changed my life. When I discovered how dark life can be, I instinctively reached out for the light. As I walked through the valley of fear and uncertainty, I searched for a path towards hope. And when I experienced the absolute truth that life is actually short, my own life became more valuable as a result. My new motto is, “Live.” Live for today, because this moment is the only one we have.

How then to be merry? Accept that healing takes time. Know that happiness is eventually, and always, a choice. Hold tight to the love you have for your spouse, but don’t let that hold become so tight that it strangles the living you. Value the opportunity to change someone’s life, in ways large or small. And as a good friend once said to me, rest in the riddle.

Wishing all of you the chance to be merry….even if only for the briefest of moments.


The Widow Next Door
Thursday, December 18th, 2008

WidowSpeak Blog—Michele

Grief is a thief; it steals the breath of life and leaves devastation in its wake. What happens when grief robs a woman of not only her husband, but also her ability to cope with the world around her? How do others know when the aftermath of loss has created a dangerous situation for their friend, family member, or neighbor? When has enough time passed that we no longer wonder if a person’s life difficulties could have something to do with the death of a loved one? The answers to these questions can only be discovered if we are willing to plant our own feet next to a widow, and walk a portion of the journey by her side.

A young woman lost her husband in a car accident six years ago. At the time of her husband’s death their children were eight and two, and her full-time occupation was caring for their family. The car accident that took her husband’s life left this young woman in deep despair. And then she got lost. As each year passed, her ability to find her way out of the forest of grief declined. She stayed in bed, she stopped cleaning the house, she let the yard go—and most people stood by and watched. After the first few years these others assumed this woman was lazy, useless, and a bad mother. Yet, her friends remembered a kind person who loved her children and worked hard to make their lives full and happy. At one time she belonged to the local church, volunteered in the neighborhood, and reached out to others. But when it was time to walk the road of loss—she walked alone.

After six years the department of child protective services was called to this family’s home. The house was declared a fire hazard, as was the surrounding property. And then someone spoke up. A friend recognized that this young woman never functioned the same way after her husband’s death. She noticed that the light was gone from her eyes, her former level of energy never returned, and she could still see that she loved her children and wanted to be able to take care of them. Most importantly, she didn’t put a timeline on her friend’s grief journey.

This good friend searched the Internet for a group that would help this widow. She sent a message to a widow’s support site, and that message happened to land in the lap of someone who knew someone who might be able to help. After a volley of phone calls and e-mails it was discovered that this woman was given one week to get the house cleaned up, or her children would be removed from the home. When the first call for help was received, three days had already passed.

A group called Catholic Charities was contacted, and agreed to make a home visit. What they found when they arrived was a home that could be aired on a daytime talk show—and a woman so lost she couldn’t find a path out. The very next day Catholic Charities rounded up eight volunteers and worked twelve hours straight—sifting, sorting, removing, and caring. On the appointed day, they still needed more time. The case worker for Catholic Charities called the Sheriff assigned to the case, and said they were well on their way to getting the situation under control but could they have one more day? Granted the extension, more volunteers showed up the following day, and as they finished the last bits of work a social worker arrived to take the children. As the social worker looked around the house, she wondered aloud what the problem could have been. The children looked healthy, the house was clean, the kids obviously wanted to stay with their mom; after a few phone calls she left, bewildered by what had taken place. The next day, the Sheriff returned and declared the case closed.
What a gift this wonderful friend gave our sister widow: the gift of understanding. She recognized grief for the thief that it is, and reached out a hand in help instead of pointing a finger in accusation. This led to another gift: the care and concern for others so beautifully displayed by the staff and volunteers from Catholic Charities. They do their work without judgment, and they don’t leave the person in need once the immediate dilemma is solved. This family will receive free counseling, and now has a place to turn for help, support, and hope.
The last thing this widow said to her benefactors was, “I didn’t know how to ask for help, I am so grateful.”

Thank God there was someone who didn’t need to be asked aloud in order to hear the cry.

How to Survive the Holidays: Tips for Widows
Tuesday, December 16th, 2008

I think many grievers become overwhelmed with conflicting feelings during the holidays. Questions arise about how to best cope during this festive season when you are not feeling festive.

1) Really be honest with yourself. Your loved one is gone physically. Acknowledge that no matter what you do, things won’t be the same. I believe that this acknowledgment can really help with the confusion and frustration that often comes up during the holidays.

2) Decide to take control of your participation in holiday events. Ask yourself if you want to continue with previous traditions. And if you do, be clear about the reasons you want to continue with these traditions. You have lost your loved one. You had no control over that, but you do have control over how you choose to spend your holiday.

3) Consider different options. If you always stayed home, consider going away, even if it is just a day trip to go hiking or for a long drive. You might also consider volunteering at a homeless shelter or soup kitchen.

While the holidays can be a difficult time for grievers, they can also be a time to really review what is important in your life. Writing about your feelings can be a very informative and empowering experience. If you don’t already journal, pick up a blank notebook at your office supply store and just begin writing about your feelings regarding the holidays and holiday traditions.

Writing causes thinking. Your inner wisdom will guide you as you allow the writing process to unfold.

As you become clearer about your feelings you will begin to feel a sense of inner empowerment. This feeling of empowerment is one of the transformative gifts that can unfold through the grieving process.

Consider your option and realize that you do have choices. The holidays can afford you the opportunity to see more deeply into your own identity as a griever, but also as someone who is moving through and beyond your grief.