In order to bloom…

“The day I lost you, I also lost me. I’ve been trying to find myself again, but it’s hard. It’s hard because you were a huge part of my life. Not having you here is so painful, I’m just not me anymore.” ~unknown

Those who have lost a spouse, spend a significant amount of time focused on their “new normal” and how unhappy they are with the new reality. I am writing specifically about loss due to death, not loss due to divorce. While there is a new normalization in divorce, and it is a significant life changing event, there is more acceptance and choice involved in legal dissolution of a marriage than you find in the death of a spouse.

With the death of spouse, you also experience the death or expiration of daily life as you know it. You not only mourn your husband or wife, you mourn your life, and in a way, you mourn yourself. I have stated this before, the loss of a spouse changes everything from how you eat and shop, to how you sleep, to how you watch tv, basically to how you live your life. Take some time to grieve for yourself.

You have an opportunity, not one you asked for, and maybe not want you wanted, but you can, in essence, create your own environment with which to move forward. And although you may not want to, move forward you must. Things to consider:

  • You do not have to stay stuck in the same life. In the early months, after my husband passed, I tried to live the same life, at the same pace, only as a single parent who was grieving. Trying to do everything we did before, as a couple, but now, by myself, and I just created a mess, and was exhausted in the process. Hold on to what you need, and then the things you really want, and let the rest go.
  • Clean up the clutter. Not everyone is ready to dispose of their spouses items right away. Some may take months or years to clear out unneeded items. Others may want to free themselves of the painful memories right away. For me, it was a process of phases.
    • First, and by first I mean when I got home from the hospital, I cleaned out the medicine cabinet. I felt the need to purge all the medications that reminded me of illness.
    • In later months, I began to purge items of clothing that did not hold sentimental value, papers, and miscellaneous belongings. Things I could trash or donate.
    • Later still, I started boxing sentimental items that my daughter might want, clothing, books, his personal treasures. This is a collective of stuff that started quite large, but as time goes on I have been able to narrow it down to truly important items (photos, letters, a few articles of clothing, books, etc). I have cleaned and organized this collection several times.
  • Streamline your life and make it as simple as possible. This means closing accounts, canceling memberships and subscriptions that are no longer being used. Get rid of the extra bills, the extra paper, clean out the inbox, believe it or not, all this stuff weighs you down each day.
  • Re-prioritize what is important to you. Let’s face it. Our lives get complicated. This is a great time to de-stress and re-focus. Priorities change. For me, my daughter was the most important thing in my life. I was determined to spend more time with her, and less time with work. I don’t want to say that work is not important, and it was no less important to me after my husband’s death, but I no longer could rely on my husband to cover so I could skip a gymnastics practice to draft a presentation for work. I wanted to be there for her and for every practice, recital, and school project as humanly possible. I didn’t want to miss a moment.

Not everyone is ready to take on these challenges, not everyone wants to or needs to, but I have to tell you, completing this cleanse helped me focus, helped me grow, and helped me to move forward.

“When a flower doesn’t bloom, you fix the environment in which it grows, not the flower.” ~Alexander Den Heijer

“I am sorry for your loss…”

“I am sorry for your loss.” I have said it myself many times, and continue to say it myself to this day. After a significant loss, this is a phrase you will hear it over and over, and for many years to come. It is uncomfortable, and even 8 years later, I am not used to hearing it. Does the actual phrase help?…well no…there are no magic words that heal or make things all better. But it does acknowledge that someone sees your pain, the pain you have gone through, are going through, and the pain that is yet to come. People may not have lived your life or shared your same loss, but they are acknowledging that you have had significant loss, and the wish is that you had never had to endure such grief.

I have said this before, but it deserves to be repeated. The people in your life do not know what to say or do, and truly there is nothing that is going to “take it all away” or “make it all better.” Friends, family, co-workers, and strangers on the street feel awkward at the mention of a significant loss. The phrase “I am sorry for your loss” is not intended to make you feel better, it is intended to acknowledge. Please do not judge the content but accept the spirit with which is was intended. Do not find offense in words that do not comfort you, but instead find comfort in the fact that people care.

After the loss of husband, I received many sentiments of care and concern. I received calls, texts, emails, letters, cards, posts, and if I took the time to look at the sky, I may have even seen a smoke signal or two. Sympathy cards and notes of sentiment are not comforting to everyone. Honestly, I have polled other widows and widowers, the results were pretty close to 50/50. It actually shocked me a little, because honestly, I felt uplifted by the outpouring of support I received from others. I was so appreciative of people that cared and took time away from their busy lives to write and to reach out, and believe it or not send money, or donate to the charitable cause we recommended in my husband’s honor. It brought tears of joy to my eyes daily for a number of weeks. I have since been shocked to learn that others, in similar situations, did not experience the same appreciation. But then again, everyone’s grief journey is so very different.

I have heard from other widows/widowers that they have yet to even open a single card or letter, months, or years after they were delivered. That even the thought is still too painful to face. And others still that find no comfort at in words of sympathy And yet an albeit smaller group that almost seem angered by the outreach, and perhaps at life in general since the loss.

I for one, was so moved by the letters and notes I received. Friends and family that took time to expose the most vulnerable sides of themselves, those that shared their own loss experiences with me at the most vulnerable time in my life. I hold those words dear to my heart, and even though to I do not necessarily interact with these people every day, I will always feel joined to them and blessed to have them in my life.

It is because of this vulnerability, shared bond, and comfort that I felt, that I now take time to write my from my own personal experience to those in my life that go through loss. I do hope that they take my words for the spirit of the intention, and recognize that although I cannot make things all better, not that I exactly understand their experience, but that I recognize the pain they are in and hope that they can find comfort in that or an ear to listen if needed.

Podcast Appearance

Hello, friends! I am so excited, it is here! My guest appearance on the Tendrils of Grief Podcast!!! Please take a listen, please comment, please share!

The WHY is not your friend.

When someone passes away, whether expected or unexpected, people always ask why? I don’t mean how, it is also natural to ask how a person dies, but instead I mean why? Why did God, or the Universe, take this person away? Widows and widowers, especially, get caught up in the WHY?

  • Why did this happen?
  • Why did they take such a good person?
  • Why, he/she was so young, with so much more to give/live?

And often times, what is wrapped up in the why, is the why me?

  • Why did God, or the Universe do this to me?
  • Why am I left to deal with all of this?
  • Why did they take him/her from me?

People get caught up in the WHY? Focused on the WHY, as if it will help them somehow. As if there is a way to make logic out of all the heart ache.

I am going to propose something that will be very unpopular. The WHY doesn’t matter. It is not for anyone to understand. If you are a believer, it is not for us to figure our God’s plan, or to even try to understand it. If you are not a believer, then maybe there is also no WHY. I say to everyone who will listen. The WHY doesn’t really matter. It will not, and can not, change anything.

  • If you know the WHY, will it bring the person back?
  • If you know the WHY, will it make you miss them any less?
  • If you know the WHY, will it change anything?

The WHY is a distraction. It takes your focus away from the present circumstances and only delays the inevitable or makes you feel helpless and weak. Don’t focus on the WHY, instead focus on how to change the situation you are in.

Easier said than done, I know this just as much as the next guy. Those pesky emotions get in the way… But seriously, if you wallow in the WHY you living in the past. In order to get through the present and build a new life, one you can live with, that unfortunately doesn’t include your loved one, you need to focus on the present. Don’t get trapped in the WHY. The WHY is not your friend.

Dirty Little Secrets, Two Faces of Grief

There are things people never talk about, never discuss, things that people don’t want to admit or talk about regarding grief, grief has two faces.

  • No one tells you about all the things that come up, the “red tape” that clogs your days and that you are forced to deal with ON TOP of grieving for your spouse and life you used to know. Insurance, wills, probate, bills, accounts, social security, all the random letters and notices, and time spent tracking down policies, and accounts, and canceling appointments, and memberships. No one prepares you for these things. After having to manage through this alone, I have started keeping a record of everything in one place for my family to hopefully spend a little less time on the “red tape” and have a little more time to focus on healing.
  • No one share with you, that the experience itself changes you to the core, who you are, what you will be, and basically everything you know. Grief becomes your weakest moment and out of it you need to build yourself up to become the strongest you have ever been. No one tells you that. And most times, or all times, you don’t feel strong, but later, in hindsight, you will feel it. Your outlook will change and you will approach life differently.
  • Who knew this experience would be a roller coaster of a ride, with many lows, steep hills, and every time you reach the top, you rush down only to hit another mountain? This is not something you get through, or get past, or get over. It lasts forever, just know that the hills become smaller and start to even out. My emotions would hit me when I list expected it. I would be triggered, and by what? I could not really tell you. I stopped trying to apply reason to my days and of course my nights.
  • No one prepares you for the physical pain. The sore muscles, the headaches, and the heart aches. Actual physical pain, not emotional pain, but real physical pain.
  • The loneliness. Friendships change when you are grieving. You will lose friends….
    • People stay away because they do not want to bother you, they distance themselves or leave your life completely
    • Friends are afraid to say the wrong thing
    • Friends don’t get it, they want the old you back.
  • The bitterness that becomes too easy. It sometimes comes from that angry place, that place that wants to lash out at the world for treating you unfairly.
    • Angry at the circumstances, the world, or God.
    • Frustrations with others who just don’t seem to understand and therefore judge, offer opinions, and push you in directions you don’t want to go.
    • The jaded view and skepticism that everything will in fact NOT work out for the best.

People also don’t want to face that there are actually good things that can come from this experience, if you so choose. The second face.

  • There is a strength that you are forced to muster, you may not always feel strong, but you are, just by surviving while grieving and in pain. Everyone has seen an athlete, like a runner, who gets injured during the course of a race but they bravely hobble their way to the finish line. Grief can be like that, you are injured, hurt, but somehow you manage to bravely hobble through each day.
  • In many cases, you pick up new skills or learn how to take care of things you may have never had to take care of in the past. Maybe you never had to pay the bills or manage a household budget. Maybe you had to learn to shop and cook for your family, or mow the lawn. Maybe you found yourself learning about life insurance and/or health insurance, and all the ins and outs of accounts you were never before familiar with. Be proud of learning new things and taking on new skills.
  • Sometimes you find yourself in a position to build a new life, a fresh start. You may not want to do this, and lets face it, you miss your loved one, and you probably so not want to build a new life without them. But that is not an option. Make the best of this, and make choices for yourself and your family. Create a life you want, instead of focusing on the life you had, or were left with. Build your own world.
  • There can be a shift in thought. You may take a new inventory of your life and create a new perspective. What is REALLY important to you? What do you value the most?

No one wants to think or admit that good can come from the death of spouse. No one wants to say that strength, confidence, and new perspective can come from such a major loss. But I am not afraid to let that dirty little secret out of the dark and into the light. Good can come from this, if you let it.

Everything is different, EVERY SINGLE THING.

Loss of a loved one rocks your world. Anyone who has lost a parent, sibling, or close friend can attest to that… Now speak to a widow or widower…Literally everything thing changes…EVERY SINGLE THING!

Death of a spouse is different from other forms of grief and loss that you may or have or you will experience. It literally changes your entire world.

  • What you eat changes
  • How you eat changes
  • When you eat changes
  • How you shop changes
  • Where you go and when you go changes
  • The way you relax changes
  • Even what you watch on tv changes
  • Your daily routine changes
  • Your sleep patterns change

When I say that I had a whole “new normal,” I really mean it. It was easy for me to tolerate the change by focusing on my 8 year old daughter. I say tolerate because I did not like this new normal AT ALL. But at least I found a focus, something stable to hold on to a midst all the change enveloping me. I found myself getting caught up in the routines we had before my husband passed, and trying to keep up the same pace we maintained when we were TWO parents, and I was miserably failing. Juggling work, gymnastics, karate, school, and everything that comes with a busy household. On top of grieving for my husband, I was grieving for my life, and now on top of all that I felt like a failure. Something had to give.

At this point, I think it was about 6 months after he had passed, that I decided enough was enough. I was determined to not fail, to not get taken down by a life I once lived. I had to come to terms with the fact that I wasn’t going to be able to live the way had before.

And guess what? I wasn’t a failure. I was actually given an opportunity. I had an opportunity to take everything that wasn’t working, scrap it, and start in a new direction.

  • I simplified my meal planning and found it was a whole lot easier to plan super quick meals for just me and and 8 year old.
  • Shopping became easier too, less food to consider
  • We started going out to eat a little more, to take some of burden of cooking and cleaning away
  • I hired services to help with some light cleaning and lawn care
  • I was able to relax with a good book, pick my own tv shows, and catch up with friends
  • Sleep was still something of an enigma, but oh well, such is life.

Change doesn’t have to be bad all the time. What caused the change was bad, but it doesn’t have to define our present, who we are, and who we will become. We own who we are and what we want our lives to be.

“This doesn’t have to be so bad. Just because we are hurting and healing doesn’t mean we have to be suffering.”

Grieving on Social Media

It is a choice…to choose to grieve publicly or privately. Navigating social media can be a treacherous and and slippery slope on a good day, so proceed carefully and with forethought.

There are pitfalls to social media when grieving. Please be warned that there will always be critics and fall out to your activity on social media. People that think you should not be happy so soon, or have been sad too long, or shouldn’t be sharing so much, or not sharing enough. You need to decide what is best for you and then let go of the rest. So much of social media centers around what others think, I so screw them! It is nobody’s business but yours what YOU choose to do with YOUR social media. Just remember that social media is just that, it is social, so you KNOW that there is an audience for whatever to do.

People choose to use their social media pages and platforms in different ways. I suggest choosing a lane and then employing some discipline to stick to it. 🙂 Some paths you may choose:

  • For fun, browsing entertainment, connection with family and friends
  • As a diary, timeline of their lives and experiences
  • For news, updates, debates
  • for business, work, etc

Just to give you an idea, here is what I have chosen to do:

  • For fun, browsing entertainment, connection with family and friends
  • Not so much as a diary of the drama in my life, I do however share significant updates (like my daughter getting her driver’s license, or the adoption of a kitten). I have a separate page for this blog, JenR8ion Widow, and DO share that to my page.
  • For news, updates, debates – I do scroll through news articles, and occasionally glance at a debate on a friend’s page, however I chosen NOT to engage in political debate, religious views, or other controversial topics on my page or in conversation.
  • For business, work, etc. I used to use my page for work in the past, but have chosen not to continue in this fashion.
  • I have chosen to join several groups, some are funny and share jokes, others are support groups for widows, and still others are alumni pages, memory pages, parenting groups, etc. The support group pages have closed audiences and I consider those safe spaces for grief sharing, getting and giving support, and grief-venting.
  • I may post an article or share a post, but I have decided to use social media more for fun and try to keep it light.

My way is certainly not the right way, it is just the right way for me and not by any means a template for anyone else.

Social media can be a great way to find solace, support, encouragement. You can post positive things and receive positive feedback for a sometimes needed boost. You can read happy stories from friends and family, or catch up on current events in the news, or you can laugh at funny clips, jokes, or memes. Social media can be a great time-suck that helps distract you from all the drama or chaos you may be experiencing. It can also have a down side. A dark side. “Don’t go over to the dark side, Luke.”

I caution you to be mindful of the content you choose to pay attention to, and to not take social media too personally. Avoid the pitfalls:

  • Profiles are NOT reality, people post content for themselves, some post all happiness, joy, and accomplishments, others post drama and negativity. All are generating or trying to generate attention and response for themselves. Do not allow yourself to feel down or jealous of the happy perfect lives you think your friends are living (I assure you, they have drama too). And on the flip side, do not get caught up in the negativity and bids for attention by the drama posters. More often than not, they are looking for pity and attention, not help or advisement. Both of these scenarios have the potential to bring you down. Enjoy the happy posts, and wish everyone well.
  • If you don’t want negativity, eliminate the haters from your pages, YES, even family. I am not saying eliminate them from your life (sometimes that is impossible), but you can certainly eliminate them from your social media. You do not need to put up with anything on your page you don’t want to be there. Edit your page. You own it, take control.
  • If political debate and others views are bringing you down, don’t entertain those ideas on your page. Unfollow people whose views you no longer wish to see, or better yet, hide them. There are always options to remove the clutter, blocking, hiding, unfollowing, and even a snooze option…
  • Know in advance that people will be seeing what you post, and be prepared for comments and viewpoints that may not be shared by you.
  • If you are using your social media to engage in business or for work, you may want to have a separate work profile. Think about if you want your professional life to intermingle with your social life. Do you want or care if your professional contacts see the views of your friends, and vice versa? Is your page, professional-worthy or does it depict righteous party scenes and political viewpoints that you may not want your Linked-In audience to see?

Who would have thought, all those years ago, when we first joined social media, that it would develop into such a powerful and dynamic force in our lives, something more than connecting or re-connecting friends and family? But here we are, in the world where social media can connect friends, family, share news stories, connect strangers in support groups, promote businesses, and so much more! Social media can do so many positive things, but when grieving, I suggest you give it some serious forethought and how best to use social media to promote your growth and healing.

Rant over.

Don’t take grief so seriously

Sometimes in grief people get easily offended, judged, and are quick to have their feelings hurt. They often times block out their friends and family, believing them to be judgmental, inconsiderate, and insensitive. But I am throwing the challenge out there, are your friends and family intentionally being insensitive, or are you (in your grief-stricken state) being overly sensitive?

Think about when you were younger and trying to make new friends. How exactly did you do that? More often times than not, you looked for commonalities, things like hobbies, likes, or interests that you shared.

Now, think about insensitive things your current friends are saying and doing. Are they drawing from their own experiences to try to comfort you and finding the wrong words and actions? Are they using words and actions that offend or seem hurtful? Like comparing your loss to a divorce, or a grandparent that had passed away? Do they not understand why you can’t just bounce back to who you were before, or why you can’t seem to get past this loss? I have to tell you that these things happened to me. I had a friend once tell me that at least I didn’t have to deal with a custody situation and an estranged ex! And another said that at least I didn’t have to go through the pain and feelings of failure associated with her divorce! All of these things offended me, especially in my overly sensitive state. They infuriated me! I mean first off, I did not have an EX anything! My husband is now my late husband, we were never divorced, our marriage didn’t end by anyone’s choice! Are they competing with me to see who’s situation is worse? Or comparing their situation to mine? I’d say it is like trying to compare apples to oranges, but in my mind we weren’t even comparing things from the same food group!

I propose…maybe it is less about comparing and competition, and more about trying to find commonality. People constantly try to find ways to connect with each other. Albeit most of the time, in our situation (as a widow or widower), it is not well founded and sometimes inappropriate. The intent of our friends is actually good. Again, I ask you…think back to how you make friends in the first place. It wasn’t until I looked at it this way that I was able to come to peace with what was said to me. There was no malicious intent. Although the content of what they were saying was all wrong, the intent was actually good. Do not let the content cloud your vision of the intent. These individuals were not trying to contrast and compare, they were trying to find common ground. They felt uneasy and awkward with the situation. This was not something they could easily relate to and were struggling to find a way to assimilate. They were trying to stay connected to their friend and they were not quite sure how or what they were doing.

Please do not get me wrong, FRIENDSHIPS change, with this experience YOU have changed, SITUATIONS change. You do not have to put up with things that are hurtful, or are intended to make you feel bad about yourself, or what you are going through. You will lose friends, change friends, and come out of this with a different life, how could you not? I am not suggesting that you stay in relationships that do not help you grow, support you, or bring positivity to your life. What I am saying is give those that do a little leeway. I am reminded of a quote from a mentor, and friend, “I am far more selective about how and where, and with whom, I spend my time.”* You have an opportunity to select the friends who support you and comfort you and build a better life without burning bridges in the process.

*Mary B. Lucas, Speaker, People Connector, and Author of Lunchmeat and Life Lessons

Widow Brain – it is a real thing

Widow Brain (aka Widow’s Fog or Griever’s Fog) is a REAL and TRUE phenomenon that occurs as a part of the grief journey.

There is more to widow brain than just sadness and loss that overwhelm a person’s thoughts on a daily basis. Griever’s Fog can occur, not just with widows, not just with grievers, but with anyone who has experienced trauma or significant loss.

  1. The brain is emotionally trying to make sense of the situation and process pain. An example of this is that feeling where everyone else is just moving on with their daily lives and all the griever can think about is how unimportant and pointless the day-to-day seems.
  2. The feeling of exhaustion, being drained of energy. This happens naturally because all energy is being spent trying to heal and process the pain of loss. This sometimes makes getting out of bed or off the couch feel like a challenge.
  3. Losing a spouse is a trauma. Trauma creates decreased memory function. This is a neurological occurrence. This is why a widow may be forgetful, or lose things (keys, phone) and may have a hard time making decisions (small or large).

With the grief and/or trauma, there is an actual hormonal disruption that occurs, this explains the symptoms a person who is grieving experiences, such as disturbed or loss of sleep, loss of appetite, increased fatigue, and increased anxiety.*

Speaking from experience, I found myself losing track of time, walking in to a room having no idea what I was in there for, forgetting to perform simple tasks, and even forgetting entire conversations that had taken place. My temper became short and I became easily frustrated. I actually diagnosed myself with Widow’s Aphasia. For the record, this is not a true affliction or diagnosis, this is something I made up, but accurately describes my increased inability to find or remember the right word or the correct phrases I am looking for in even a casual and relaxed conversation.

I have filled notebook after notebook with reminders and lists to help me remember and stay on track. If I do not write it down, it may not get done! My cell phone guides my life, with reminders, appointments, and shopping lists. I am fairly certain that Siri hates me.

I am sorry to say, while with time, my temper and memory have improved (the Widow’s Aphasia, not so much), the challenges have not completely gone away.

I do have some tips that have worked for me to deal with this phenomenon, a bit of parting advice:

  • Write things down! I carry notebooks and take notes on my phone all the time.
  • Chill out! (take a deep breath and relax, because it only worsens as frustration increases)
  • Puzzles – I have done lots of puzzles to exercise my brain. (Crosswords, word puzzles, spacial shape games, number puzzles, even jigsaw puzzles)
  • Mindless or near mindless hobbies that take your brain away from the stress. (I enjoy reading books, but flipping through a trashy magazine works too)
  • And lastly, find the humor in it! (I can not place enough value on a good laugh?)

The whole concept of Widow’s Fog is not without merit. I believe this to be the body’s method of self-preservation. The brain is being protected from the overwhelming anguish and pain the griever would otherwise have to endure, kind of like pain medication for the brain. If you are the person experiencing “the fog” then know that it may go away after a few months, but will assuredly lessen over time. If you know someone who is experiencing loss, please be understanding, and have a healthy dose of patience.

*Jannel Phillips, PhD, Henry Ford Health System

“I miss me”

Grief, it is a funny, fickle, complicated, unwanted, unappreciated, and misunderstood experience. When someone is grieving, they are missing a loved one, learning to live without them, learning a whole new world, a new reality, and a new normal. They are not just grieving a person (or a job, a pet, a home, family or lifestyle for that matter), they are grieving themselves.

Grief rocked my world when my husband passed away. He changed my life forever, the life of our daughter, and the lives of many people he had touched in this existence. I was no longer the same person. I was also grieving for myself. I was mourning for who I used to be, and for whom I would be no longer.

I miss me. I miss the me that used to laugh more, the me that had the ability to be carefree or even silly at times, the me that I used to be. There is an innocence lost or part of me that has been tarnished by this experience. It has eaten away at that person, it has eroded me and changed me, like a river that forges its way through a mountain, forever changing the landscape.

While I am absolutely a different person, I am also a stronger person. I may not have felt it at the time, while I was in the midst of change and challenge, but in review, looking back, I was strong then and I am stronger now.

I had a choice, I could let this experience eat me alive and deteriorate me at the core levels, or I could chose to rebuild. I opted for the latter. Your life is forever changed, that is plain and true, but you don’t have to let it control you and how you live your life moving forward. Choose how you want to live your life and rebuild it on your (realistic) terms. You cannot control everything in your life, but start with what you can. Focus small to start and build outward. Don’t like something, change it.

I am living a very different life from the path I thought I was on. But that is OK. It is not an easier life, just a different life. Do I still miss the me that was….undoubtedly, but I love the me I am now too!

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