... a voice for those who mourn the loss of a soul mate
"He felt now that he was not simply close to her, but that he did not know where he ended and she began." - Leo Tolstoy

Monday, October 24, 2016

Double the Joy

My friend Kathy ‘s husband passed away over a year ago and I find myself fascinated by how she has handled her loss. Her grief is something she keeps very much private and to all outward appearances, she is moving forward with life. I know she loved him deeply and I know she misses him deeply too. I am sure she has her times of tears. The fact that she is moving forward in no way diminishes those feelings or the depth of her loss.

In many ways, they were very different individuals. They had a relationship based on mutual respect that gave them both the freedom to be who they were. They each celebrated life in ways that worked best for them individually and as a couple. A gregarious, social woman, Kathy has embraced life for as long as I have known her. She loves to travel and to get to know, really know, new people who become a part of her global social network. He, I think, preferred to be more of a homebody. They often went their separate ways as she frequently travels for work, but when they were together, they treasured every moment as they created priceless memories.

So I was not particularly surprised when Kathy told me about an exhilarating zip line experience she had this summer in Central America. Her insights into the experience truly amazed me. As she flew along the line, she said, she was incredibly thrilled by the adventure of what she was doing. In my mind, I can see her screaming in sheer joy, her face alight with excitement. But, in the midst of that joy, she sobered, feelings of guilt intruded and she was saddened to think that she was doing it alone and her husband was not there to share it with her. It dampened her enthusiasm and diminished the entire experience.

She later told a friend of her feelings. The feedback she got changed everything. Rather than feeling guilty for enjoying herself in her husband’s absence, her friend suggested, perhaps it would be more valuable to understand that she was doubling the joy by experiencing it for him as well.

I think perhaps for many people there is a feeling of guilt as they begin to live again. And living again is inevitable. But it can feel something like a betrayal of the person you loved so deeply. I would like to think that when you find yourself able to smile again, to laugh again, to find joy in even the smallest experience, you will cherish those things and know that in feeling joy once more, it is not a betrayal. Rather, you have doubled the joy as you embrace life in honor of the one you loved.

Saturday, October 22, 2016

We are gathered here...

"We are gathered here today to..."

It struck me the other day that these words usually start off two very important ceremonies in life - maybe the two most important ones - weddings and funerals.
So much planning goes into the first one - guest lists, color themes, flowers, venue, clothes - and on and on.
But the second one usually happens unexpectedly and in a rush. Often the details are things we have seen others do. It's not usual that the major participant - the deceased - gets any input into the proceedings.
It happens. But in my experience it's not the norm. We hate to think about these things. It's almost  a superstition. If we talk about it, we will cause it to happen. On those occasions when pre-planning takes place, it makes it so much easier for the ones left behind.
I didn't have that luxury. John died suddenly and without warning. We had not discussed much about ceremony beyond cremation and closed casket. So I did the best I could and I think the funeral I arranged was something John would have liked.
But then it came time to decide what to do with his ashes. We had never discussed that. Ever.
So I decided not to decide beyond getting a very nice urn.
But someday we need to be placed somewhere.
I too will be cremated and I want our ashes to be together.
But where I have no clue.
So a few years ago I decided pre-planning [in my case anyway] was in order.
I contacted a church a few towns over that had a columbarium [a room or building with niches for funeral urns to be stored - a new word for me], made an appointment to speak with a representative, and off I went.
It was an experience, to say the least. I don't know if it was typical but it was definitely different.
To start with, I was given a list of available spaces to choose from, each having a certain price allotted to them depending on location - higher on the wall was more expensive than lower, glass front cost more than closed, and so forth. I was having trouble maintaining my composure. I was starting to hear John laugh.
Then I was offered a "tour" to see where the real estate was located. Okay.
Off we went. The lobby of the columbarium building had piped in music and a "visiting" room. John was now laughing out loud. My guide then proceeded to show me where various people she thought I might know [local well known families] were going to be laid to rest as well as the space she and her friends had already purchased. It begged the question why I would have to know this. Surely we were not going to all party after lights out.
But I smiled and nodded my way through the walk-through.
Finally we went back to her office and she presented me with a price sheet and finance plan, expecting me to make a choice, implying if I waited too long, the choice spots would be gone. I felt like I was in a time-share presentation..
I excused myself to go to the ladies room. While in there I could swear I heard John yelling "Get out!" in between absolute belly laughs.
I went back in, told the nice lady I needed time to think and quickly left.
She called a week later and I let her go to voice mail.
John is still in his urn and I still have no pre-plans made.
Every time I decide it's time to try again, John just keeps laughing.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

I didn’t know my “third act” would be a solo performance.

Sometimes I feel I am on life’s longest running scavenger hunt. By definition a scavenger hunt is distinguished from a treasure hunt, in that the latter involves one or a few items that are desirable and completed in sequence, while a scavenger hunt primarily collects undesirable or useless objects in random order. And my lists seem to be cross-matched. The kitchen hunt-think grocery store-midway through my list becomes an all-out effort to gather donations for the food bank we support at church by bringing donations the 1st Sunday of each month. My time expands into the nature hunt which involves some judicial weeding in the back yard, and I find those scissors, now rusted, that I used to trim some rosemary last month when I couldn’t find the garden snippers. The post office run garners 3 different size priority mail boxes because I’m not sure how much room some shirts I’m planning to send my brother will take up. I stop off for a bookstore respite and a latte in their cafe. Oh look, they have a 75% off table with Harry and David popcorn. I get four containers for the price of one. I can use them as gifts to take to someone’s home. What are the chances I will need 4 gifts before the expiration date? The question at the end of the day though, is not where you store the objects but where you store all the feelings these hunts inspire?

I didn’t know my “third act” would be a solo performance. My life plan included two center row orchestra seats and now I’m using one. I’m rewriting the script for a single front row seat life. I’m in charge of all my life’s scavenger hunts and lists. Today, I have the opportunity to hear Michelle Obama speak at a rally to get out the early vote. I’m letting my inner fan girl overcome my dislike of crowds. Tomorrow, I have my liturgical dance rehearsal. (Or as my sister calls it, lethargic dance.) It’s a praise dance group I was recently invited to join and I only hope that my white outfit looks more angelic and less Pillsbury dough boy than I suspect. I might be the kid at the end of the row who’s facing the wrong way when the music stops but I will be participating. On Sunday, I’m attending a matinee performance of The Glass Menagerie. I splurge on season tickets at a neighborhood theater with two friends. These are all activities that reinforce the fact that I’m alive in this dimension and as appreciation for the life I had, I celebrate the one I now have. So, I get up, I put on my good jewelry, and I show up with my scavenger list in hand.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Birthdays Will Never Be the Same

As I approach my birthday this month, I realize that it will be my first one since losing my dear friend and soul sister, Anita. Make no mistake. I am grateful to still have the comfort of family and other friends and I am sure we will celebrate in one way or another, but this birthday will still not be the same without her in this world.

I could always look forward to her phone call, her lovely cards and the most thoughtful gifts a girlfriend could ever want. Last year, for my 70th birthday, she made the long journey from Oregon just to celebrate a major milestone with me. What a lovely celebration we had! She, Elaine and I had a delightful dinner but then we topped it off with a night at the circus. Oh my! There were acrobats and clowns and magicians and aerial acts and all the wonderful things that make a circus magical even for those of us who are only young at heart.

For as long I live, I will treasure the memory of that night and the photo of the three of us best friends smiling at the sheer joy of that last magical evening together. We had no idea of what the near future held for us, that Elaine and I would be celebrating her 60th birthday alone this year or that we not be able to see Anita on her 70th in August.

After Christmas, we had one last day together when we had chosen to celebrate those three pivotal birthdays together with a road trip to the arts community of Tubac for browsing, shopping, eating and just simply spending time together. I thank God for that day and the quality time it gave us. In February, Anita was gone, leaving us to face all the rest of our birthdays without her. Now we are left with just sweet memories flavored with a touch of sorrow for what will never be again.

I find myself understanding how grief can walk hand in hand with regret. And I want to remind others to savor every moment of the here and now. Store memories like precious gems. And if you have lost a soul mate or, as I have, a soul sister, open your treasure chest whenever you are grieving and find solace in the riches you have stored within.

Excerpted from my soon to be released book, Breathing Again…thoughts on life after loss.

Friday, October 14, 2016

First Line of Defense Finance

I had lunch today with my mortgage banker friend. In my book, Not Too Frayed to Fly, I’m writing a chapter on first line of defense finance and I wanted to pick her brain about the immediate steps a homeowner who loses their spouse should take. The evil reality is that in a two paycheck family your income is going to be drastically cut, sometimes by as much as 50 to 70%. She had some interesting advice. The #1 absolute first thing to do is to call your lender’s loan service department. Their contact information will be listed on your statement or loan papers. Let them know your spouse has passed and ask them to make notes in your file to that effect. This one notification phone call will set a whole different pace to any future action taken by the mortgage holder.

2. Assess your situation. Can you make all your payments or do you need to make adjustments? Determine where you are financially and if you want to stay in your home. Can you take in a boarder for a short term period? Do not advertise for a roommate on Craigslist. You are in a vulnerable position and state of mind. Network through friends, church, or work, etc. to find a suitable referral. This has no negative repercussions to your credit rating.

3. Can you qualify for an interest only loan? This is typically a 30 year mortgage with interest only payments the first 10 years and then your payments are adjusted after 10 years to cover your full principal over the next 20 year period. This is especially appealing if you don’t plan to stay in the current home for more than ten years.

4. Have a real estate agent come in and assess your property so you can find out how much equity you have in your home.

5. Try for a modification with your lender. Note: You have to be two months delinquent before you can request it.

6. As a last result, try for a short sell. A short sale is a sale of real estate in which the net proceeds from selling the property will fall short of the debts secured by liens against the property. This is pre-foreclosure and you are restricted for up to 7 years before you can apply for a new home loan.

7. Contact every other creditor to apprise them of your situation including your HOA as they can very quickly file a lien on your property if you fall behind on their payments. An HOA lien would have to be satisfied before you could sell your home and can upset a short sale.

Always have someone else review your paperwork before you sign it. This should be someone not in the grief circle with you. If you don’t have a savvy friend and can’t afford a lawyer, try your local legal aid clinic. There are laws restricting “predatory lending” but you will occasionally run into an unscrupulous lender.

I hope you will never need this advice but I offer it as words from the wise. Experience is a great teacher.

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Celebrating a life - saying Shirley's name

Yesterday, my two business partners and friends, Cathy and Betts, and I met another friend and fellow writer Virginia Nosky for lunch at The Cheesecake Factory in Phoenix. Over the past 12 years or so, we were part of a group that did this often. But life happens and our little group has dwindled until it is now just us four.
Our reason for meeting was the usual - catching up, and enjoying our mutual friendship. But this particular lunch had another deeper purpose.
We were meeting this particular day at this particular restaurant to celebrate another writer who had recently died.
Shirley Clarke had been a member of our group since the late 90's. She was part of the writers group where we all met - Women Writers of the Desert. She was probably our oldest member and had never published anything before joining us. Her quiet demeanor hid from us a much more complex woman. All I knew at the time I met her was that she had a diary of her father's that she wanted to turn into a book. He had been a barnstormer back in the day and she wanted to bring his story to life. That was all Shirley talked about for years. It wasn't until just a few years ago that she was able to get it into print with the help of Betts and her publishing company Running Quail Press.
What most people didn't know was that Shirley herself was a licensed pilot and she worked tirelessly with charities helping less privileged children around the world. Shirley never talked about any of that. Her talk revolved around her home, her husband, and her children and grandchildren.
And her book. Always her book.
But that was all over now. Shirley had transitioned on to the next phase of her life and we gathered yesterday to celebrate that we had known her.
We raised a glass of ice tea [and coffee for Betts] to Shirley's memory. We ate cheesecake in her honor. We reminisced with stories. We talked about life and how we are all facing that final transition, how it is now closer and closer, how aging is changing us all. We remembered Shirley and we celebrated friendship - hers and ours. And we were happy and grateful to have each other. Some in body; some in spirit.
Godspeed, Shirley.
Cathy, Shirley, and Joy at The Cheesecake Factory

Thursday, October 6, 2016

The Best Laid Plans

I’m a planner. The busier I am, the more I plan. But lately I am discovering that sometimes my best laid plans can go flying out the window in a heartbeat. Life, in all its unpredictability, happens when it chooses to, not when my plans say it should.

Last weekend, after 52 long days in the body shop, my car was finally repaired following the accident I had in early August. I had a full Saturday planned so the schedule was tight. My plan called for me to pick up the car at 8 am, drive directly to the emissions testing station (the registration expired while the car was in the shop), then cheer our daughter on as she enjoyed her birthday gift of a Nascar drive-along.

But at every turn, I found obstacles to my carefully planned schedule. Nothing seemed to go as I needed it to.

Foolishly, I kept thinking, “Things cannot get any worse.” But a little voice in my head said, “Oh yes they could. Be careful what you think.” And then life happened and something new and challenging popped up like a jack in the box, gleefully shouting, “Surprise!”. Nothing was ever catastrophic, but just enough happened to keep reminding me to be grateful for how minor each event was in the grand scheme of things. With each new challenge, I struggled to maintain my perspective and remember the “at leasts.” At least the car was repairable. At least I finally had it back. At least it seemed as good as new. At least the accident wasn’t my fault. At least our injuries were healing and we will recover. And most importantly of all, at least neither of us was hospitalized or killed.

Which brought me full circle back to From Grief to Peace and the losses you endure when a soul mate transitions.

I know losing a soul mate is one of the most painful events anyone can ever experience. The loss of someone so intimately connected to you is like a physical rending of your very soul and no one can come through that unscathed. You mourn. You mourn that person’s absence from your life. But you also mourn the future you were anticipating. It has been suddenly cut short. The plans you had will never be realized because life happened. It happened in the guise of death. To paraphrase John Lennon, you made plans but life had a different idea.

I would like to think that perhaps some of the at leasts can help you, the survivor, endure until you can be reconnected. At least you found each other in this lifetime. At least you had precious time together and were able to make and realize many plans. At least you had love. At least you will be together again.

Excerpted from my soon to be released book, Breathing Again ... thoughts on life after loss.