... 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

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Fear of flying, dying, and living

Remember the book Fear of Flying by Erica Jong? Women of my generation [the Boomers] saw it as a wonderful book, part of that daring wave that ushered in the feminist movement. It was a catalyst that jump-started a new way of thinking for women. Like it or not, a revolution full of women of courage and free-thinking had begun.
In my opinion, death of a soul mate does the same thing to widows and widowers.  I used to have a fear of dying. I don't now. And it wasn't so much the dying part that scared me. It was the death part. It was that great unknown after the dying part that kept me up at night.
Then when my mate died, I added another fear. Fear of living.
I didn't see how I could go on without him. How would I cope? How could I get through a day without him to share with, to talk with, to love with? 
And then things slowly changed.
The loss of my soul mate started me down a path that surprised me. The desire to know where he is and how he is caused me to study with a vengeance I didn't know I had.
It gave me opportunities to learn and grow.
It brought friends into my life I never would have had.
It gifted me with a strength I never would have believed.
It destroyed my fear of living and dying. Now I know I will be reunited with my mate and I look forward to it.
And I can make the most of the days I have here until that time as well.
I can write and reach out to others.
I can appreciate a sunrise and time spent with friends.
I can enjoy a book while curled up on the sofa with my cats and my dog.
I can live and I can look forward to death, enjoying both and fearing neither.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

We still need recess.



Free time, spare time, leisure time, time off, time out, and recess are all units of open time. Credits you have saved for yourself. Be selfish. Use them for things that make you happy. Don’t squander them on chores, on overtime work, or workouts. Take a walk on the wild side and bring your dog, a Frisbee and a water container to a new park. Or just amble along on a leisurely stroll through a marketplace you’ve always thought about stopping to check out. Grab a coffee or an iced tea and sit outside on a wall or bench and people watch for a while. Allow yourself to be calm and reflect on the people passing by. Do they return your smile with one of their own? Do they look scared, annoyed or friendly? What vibe are you giving off? Do you seem approachable? Visit a nature center or a petting zoo. Allow yourself to slow down. To achieve a cadence of relaxation. For the time being, your free time, just use these credits for yourself. Get away from your computer, your tablet and even turn down the ringer on your cell phone. Yes, you can afford to be out of touch for a few minutes or even an hour or two every day. Because this is your recharge time. Time to reflect on the good things in your life. Things that bring you satisfaction and joy. No guilt thoughts and no anger. Those are for another time.

We tend to schedule ourselves into a frenzy day after day. And when we finally take a break we look around and count all the things we still plan, not need, to accomplish. Challenge yourself to schedule free time. Write it down on your calendar or peck it into your phone organizer. Set an alarm and if you must, set a timer for when time is up. This is not TV time or Facebook time. It could be an energetic 15 minutes of dancing to your favorite music time. Or it could even be a daytime nap. Make it into a routine, a respite, or challenge yourself to do something different every day. Stop at the library and take home a movie you’ve heard about and always meant to watch - something not available on your premium channels. Watch kids at a skateboard park or playing soccer. Try to remember when you were that free, that brave and felt that invincible. And use that smart phone to take a picture of something weird or beautiful that will remind you of how you spent your credits today. And leave me a message that you got my message.

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 even though he happily traveled with her as often as he could . One thing is for sure. When they were together, they treasured every moment and created priceless memories.

So, I was not particularly surprised when Kathy told me about an exhilarating paragliding experience she had this summer in Central America. Her insights into the experience truly amazed me. As she flew high in the air, 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 tears came into her eyes as she realized she was doing it alone, that 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.


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 even though he happily traveled with her as often as he could . One thing is for sure. When they were together, they treasured every moment and created priceless memories.

So, I was not particularly surprised when Kathy told me about an exhilarating paragliding experience she had this summer in Central America. Her insights into the experience truly amazed me. As she flew high in the air, 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 tears came into her eyes as she realized she was doing it alone, that 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.