... 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

Saturday, April 30, 2016

A moment in time - a piece of forever

John and I shared a love of country music and two of our favorite singers were Willie Nelson and Kris Kristofferson. We saw them live any chance we got. In fact, we named our first dog after Willie.
John and Willie 1986
This week I came across an album that those two recorded under the artist title of The Highwaymen [along with Johnny Cash and Waylon Jennings] and heard a gem of a song I had never heard before and it touched my soul. It's called A Moment of Forever and was written by Kris and sung by Willie.
It made me realize how even though my Love is no longer with me in this physical world, I am so grateful for the time we did have together. How that will always be with me. How he gave me our own Forever.
So precious.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Just a Hug

How do you offer comfort in the face of overwhelming grief? The silent cries of grief can cause words to fall on deaf ears.  Sometimes the only thing that can bring comfort is the simple connection of one heart to another, a gesture that says, “I am here for you. Feel the peace and love in this hug, this connection, and cling to my strength when yours fails you.”

They say that most people are touch deprived. Too many of us go through our days wrapped in isolation, rarely reaching out or inviting contact. What a lonely existence that can be! I can only imagine how much lonelier it is for someone who has known and lost the intimacy of a soul mate.

As we nurture a soul mate connection, we all discover small rituals and gestures that keep the connection alive for us, a touch, an inside joke, a special toast over wine, intuitively recognizing when only a hug will do. And when that connection is broken, nothing else can replace those special traditions.

I know words alone cannot really ease the pain. But I can reach out in even more basic ways. I can start with the most profound touch I have at my command. I can hug. Not just the pat on the back, mommy hug or the fraternal, stiff teepee hug, but the true heart to heart hug. Nothing can replace that for making a connection that transcends isolation. The beat of one heart crosses barriers of flesh and bone to connect with another and truly convey what nothing else can. It is not just a hug. It is the most profound expression of love I can give. I can only hope that the strength and peace that beat within my heart, that I so want to share, can find its way to the heart of my grieving friend through a hug.

Friday, April 22, 2016

We need to be kind to ourselves

So often, I find myself trying to do the right thing - be brave, chin up, move forward. Especially now that it has been almost 6 years since John passed, I find myself putting higher expectations on myself.
  • I shouldn't cry so much.
  • I shouldn't be so sensitive.
  • I need to get out more.
  • Maybe I should date.
  • John wouldn't want me to be so sad.
But those thoughts don't feel right.
In my heart, I know I need to just feel what I feel.
And it's okay, whatever it is.
Six days, six months, six years - the sadness will always be there. Certainly not in the same intensity. Our minds do learn to cope. But there will always be the thought that "if only" and then we are immediately brought back to the realization that life has changed for us. Our Love is no longer physically here and it hurts.
John's birthday was a little over a week ago and the anniversary of his passing is coming up in about a month. Whether I acknowledge that verbally or not, my heart knows. And my heart hurts. And I need to recognize that and do whatever it is to care for myself.
If that means sitting on the deck and swinging on our swing and watching the sun set or walking the dog or crying or saying extra prayers or having ice cream for supper - there is no wrong way to do this thing called grief.
Maybe after May passes I will be able to cope better.
But for now, I won't put expectations on myself. That is just one more stress that my heart doesn't need.
And it's okay to remind ourselves of that and give ourselves permission to just be - to just be sad, to just be mournful, to just be wishing things were different. We don't have to be brave every day.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

The Other Players

Widow. Widower. The very words speak to us of loss, of pain, of heartache that only time can ease. As the solitary spouse or significant other who is left behind, you become the sole focus for those of us who love you. We look for ways to comfort you in whatever way we can. We reach out to you. We offer hugs and food and time and companionship. This is as it should be. You have suffered an overwhelming loss and your whole world is colored by grief. You are just trying to make it through one moment at a time. The most natural and kindest first thing for us to do is to ask, “How are YOU?”

But what about the other players around you who are also left behind? The mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters, and children and best friends? Who comforts them? It is not up to you. You are mourning more deeply than anyone who has not been there can know. But I think the other players, as I call them, become the forgotten ones in a world defined by grief. When someone dies, so much focus shifts in a single direction that all the other loved ones simply become secondary. In trying to comfort the wife or husband or significant other, we forget to ask how the next tier of loved ones are doing. And make no mistake, they are grieving too.  They need comfort just as they try to offer it.

When my friend Betts’s husband transitioned after a valiant fight with cancer, there is no question she was mourning deeply. She still is. But her sister, who had lived with them for over half her life, was grieving almost as deeply as Betts. Jerry was like a father to her and yet no one has ever asked her how she was doing. What a sad, lonely feeling that must have been. And yet, in the face of her own grief, she unselfishly put her life on hold to stay with and comfort her sister. Perhaps they found a measure of solace in comforting one another.

I remember when my mother died mere months before my 13th birthday. Young as we were, my younger brother and I knew the implications of what had happened, that we would see our mother no more, that life as we knew it was irrevocably changed. We understood. We were grieving deeply and yet as children, we were given little thought as others sought ways to comfort our father, our older sister and themselves. I don’t recall ever being asked how I was doing. I mourned my mother alone for years afterward, always afraid to show the sorrow, keeping it hiding deep within my own heart and never asking for help in dealing with the grief. I think that the child I was when my grief was ignored came to believe that she was not entitled to grieve since no one offered her comfort. Perhaps never knowing comfort is why I so often do not know how to comfort anyone who is grieving.

I know it can be heartbreaking and exhausting to offer solace in the face of deep grief, especially when you are mourning too, but simply and genuinely asking, “How are YOU doing, how are you REALLY doing?” may well be the greatest and yet simplest gift you can offer not only to the loved one in black but to those next closest ones, the other players, who may well be near invisible in threads of gray. 

Friday, April 15, 2016

...if you are in the sacred space between stories, allow yourself to be there.

A friend contacted me this morning to check in and to tell me about the sorrow she was experiencing regarding the recent death of her sister-in-law, a very dear friend to her. I tried to console her by encouraging her to look for signs like butterflies, feathers, and pennies. She said a cardinal landed on her windowsill this morning and stayed for several minutes. The following message came across my desk later this morning and I wanted to share it. Some of us are in that sacred space between stories in our lives and I found it meaningful.

As Charles Eisenstein  writes in The More Beautiful World Our Hearts Know Is Possible,

"So please, if you are in the sacred space between stories, allow yourself to be there. It is frightening to lose the old structures of security, but you will find that even as you might lose things that were unthinkable to lose, you will be okay. There is a kind of grace that protects us in the space between stories. It is not that you won’t lose your marriage, your money, your job, or your health. In fact, it is very likely that you will lose one of these things. It is that you will discover that even having lost that, you are still okay. You will find yourself in closer contact to something much more precious, something that fires cannot burn and thieves cannot steal, something that no one can take and cannot be lost."

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Broken Heart Syndrome

This week on the television show, Dancing with the Stars, Doug Flutie, a contestant, chose 2015 for his most memorable year. Doug explained how his dad died, and then minutes later, his mother kissed his father’s forehead and then fell, and she was gone, too.... He continued: “The doctor said the only explanation is what they call dying of a broken heart.”

The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute says: "The cause of broken heart syndrome is not fully known. In most cases, symptoms are triggered by extreme emotional or physical stress, such as intense grief, anger, or surprise. Researchers think that the stress releases hormones that “stun” the heart and affect its ability to pump blood to the body. (The term “stunned” is often used to indicate that the injury to the heart muscle is only temporary.) People who have broken heart syndrome often have sudden intense chest pain and shortness of breath. These symptoms begin just a few minutes to hours after exposure to the unexpected stress. Many seek emergency care, concerned they are having a heart attack. Often, patients who have broken heart syndrome have previously been healthy. Women are more likely than men to have broken heart syndrome. Researchers are just starting to explore what causes this disorder and how to diagnose and treat it."

Broken Heart Syndrome happened to me about four hours after my husband passed. It wasn't like heart attacks have been described with the pressure of an elephant sitting on your chest, pain in your arm, neck, etc. I felt like a piece of my body was being torn out accompanied by a roaring in my ears like a ripping sound.  Minutes later the initial pain subsided but my heart ached for weeks as though a trauma to my body had occurred, perhaps akin to impacting a steering wheel during an auto collision. Later during a routine EKG, I was quizzed on when I had my "heart attack". The good news is that no ongoing heart damage generally occurs and if you survive the "attack" you are physically fine within days, unlike an actual heart attack. The bad news is you feel so freaking vulnerable, walking around missing that part of your heart that was your soulmate. There continues to be an emptiness, an almost perceptible physical hole in your heart, albeit one that doesn't show up on x-rays, but is as real as the person who was, but is no more.

Sunday, April 3, 2016


"No matter what, nobody can take away the dances you've already had."

~Gabriel Garcia Marquez~

What lovely dances do you remember? When your love has transitioned and you are left behind to keep the memories alive, the dances, the small moments that made up a lifetime together can sustain you.

Saturday, April 2, 2016

Grief has its own timeline

I'm a planner and a list maker. It's become a joke among my family and friends. I have even been known to compile a spreadsheet or two to keep track of certain things.
But grief refuses to obey my rules. I can't fit it into any cell or box or any list. Just when I think I have it wrestled into submission a song, a photo, a smell, something sends me spiraling back down.
To be sure, there is a certain progression. The first year is very hard. The realization that the world no longer makes sense, the "firsts" without our loved one, the empty raw finality that they are never ever coming home again, we will never get another hug or kiss, or hear their voice or laugh - all of those finally settle into our consciousness the first year.
So we stupidly think the second year will be easier if not easy.
And then it's not.
The second year was harder for me in many respects. As much as I thought I had finally come to grips with John being gone, the second year really made me understand what that meant. I could no longer look back and think "last year on this date we did such and such". Last year on this date, John was gone. And next year on this date, he will still be gone. No matter how well I did this grief thing, there was no payoff. John would still be gone and I would still be grieving.
And the enormity of that was hard to accept.
Grief changes. Thank God, it doesn't stay horrible forever. But it never ends.
We have to learn to accept that.