... 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

Tuesday, April 25, 2017


There is a myth that has been perpetuated for years that we replace all the cells in a human body every 7 years. It's not true. Or rather, to be more accurate, that is partially true
Cells are replaced in our body at various rates of turnover. And some cells - the neurons in our brains - are never replaced.
But it's a nice romantic thought that we can be born anew every few years. Which begs the question - why can I not lose these 10 pounds? But that's a story for another day.
Yet, this theory, flawed as it is, does add some romanticism to the number 7 and change.
And so I find myself coming up on the 7th anniversary of John's death and looking for the magical renewal. I can't say that it has happened although I do feel that I have come a long way from the person I was almost 7 years ago when I awoke on the saddest day of my life.
I've learned a lot - about grief and myself. Being a widow was not something I contemplated on May 23rd. But on May 24th that is what I was.
I have grown into this unwanted role and attempted to come to peace with it. It has not been easy.
One of the things I struggled with most was realizing and accepting that John was not coming home ever again. For a long time I didn't want to change anything - not one thing - in the house. It was as if my brain and my heart were afraid he would return and wonder where things were, where his stuff was. And truth be told, I needed to pretend that was the case. To do any less would have invited madness.
But time does heal. Slowly.
And so finally this past month I was able to take on the monumental task of transforming John's office into a space I could occupy.
John had turned the bonus room off our bedroom - a small room with no door, just an archway - into his own little room, complete with oak rolltop desk, bookcases, computer, etc. It wasn't pretty but it was functional and it was his own space to do with as he pleased.
After he died, I couldn't even bear to go into it. Just being in there for even a few minutes gave me physical symptoms and I would have to leave.
So the room became a catch-all place for stuff and gradually became really unsightly.
My solution was to put a screen across the doorway and not look.
But I knew someday I would be able to fix all that.
And as the magic 7 approached, I decided the time was now.
So for the past few weeks I have been sorting, and throwing away, and going through.
I made 15 boxes of paperwork to be shredded. I am having a company come to the house to shred all that for me this week.
I threw away a lot of junk. 
I took his desk chair for my own so now I can sit where he sat.
I cleaned.
And now it’s done.
It’s going to be a reading/meditation room.
This past weekend I smudged it. I bought some new pieces to put in there – a chair, a rug, a cabinet to house my crystals and singing bowls. I hung my Indian chime bells.
The cats and I are enjoying the space once again. I feel close to John in the room. His desk is still there - it's behind the screen. But I can read and meditate here and just be. 
I think John would approve.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Look for the Quick Hellos - Seeing Signs

I believe our loved ones send us signs from the other side. I am convinced that I get feathers and pennies from Anita, my parents and from my guardians. How do I know they are signs? They are the ones that appear in places they don’t belong or come when I am thinking of that person or when I need a little extra support. Those, I believe, are signs. The feather I found under a chair in the Barnes and Noble cafĂ© after one of our From Grief to Peace Meetings? Definitely. The feathers that show up below a bird’s nest or amid other indications of a cat’s guilty feast? Probably not.

There is a fine line between reality and delusion. Some people, in their grief, can become a little too carried away with the spiritual manifestations of their lost one.  An odd noise becomes a spirit.  A spirit becomes a ghost.  And suddenly you are haunted.

My friend Joy gets signs from her John all the time and they are very clearly signs, sometimes very powerful ones. She talks about many of them in her book, I Will Never Leave You as do I in my upcoming book Breathing Again. But what we think are signs may not always be signs. When John was still alive, they lived in a house they were pretty sure was haunted. One night, Joy kept hearing a rhythmical noise somewhere around her dresser.  The spirit, she was sure, was trying to communicate with them – until she realized the noise was only her beeper going off and vibrating on the wooden dresser.  Spirits are rarely that rhythmical. Sometimes the noise is just a beeper.  Sometimes it really is a sign. Listen for the beeper but be open to the times it is more. 

This last week at a wedding reception, I started talking with an acquaintance whose husband died almost a year ago. As we talked about him, she told me she often catches glimpses of him out of the corner of her eye but when she looks, nothing is there. How does she know it is him? She can feel his presence every time. Betts has had similar experiences with her Jerry, seeing him just on the edge of vision in Las Vegas, one of their favorite places, having a hibiscus flower twirl, untouched, five times in a bowl of water as she thought of him, having the lid fly off a trash can when Jerry came up in conversation. Those are signs.

So how do you know it is a sign and not delusion or wishful thinking? It may reflect a special song or date or animal that means something just to you or the two of you. Or, it may feel like a little internal hug. Or a little tickle in the brain that says, “Hey, look at this.” Somehow, you really feel that person at that moment, like a quick hello. And it is those quick hellos that keep you going.

Saturday, April 8, 2017

Empty Offers by Betts McCalla

Call me if you need anything.
Call me if I can help.
Promise you will call and let me know how you’re doing.

How many times have you uttered these thoughtful and totally useless comments to friends or family members who stare at you with teary eyes looking a little shell shocked by a recent death?

Think about it. Has anyone ever responded to your comment? Have they mustered the humiliation and shame of admitting they had no one else to rely on so they called you hopeful that you really meant you were available to help?

When my husband passed, everyone made those well-meant and empty handed offers of help- the neighbors, the couples we considered best friends, my girlfriends who sat with me during his surgeries and spent hours with us at hospice.

Within a few days, everyone went back to their regular lives. My regular life was gone. It had burst, broken, shattered, and lay in shambles.

No one said I will call you tomorrow to see what you need. If they had called, I would have told them I needed someone to come over and sit and drink a cup of tea with me. I might have said I needed a couple of cans of soup and a loaf of bread from the grocery store or a bag of dog food because I couldn’t find the energy to get in the car and drive to the store. I could have mentioned that I needed someone to empty all the food out of the refrigerator that had been stored too long and then to pull the trash can out to the curb for tomorrow’s pickup. I needed a big tight hug. Not the wimpy "so sorry for your loss, dearie" half shoulder pats. How I longed for someone to take the time to just sit with me and hold my hand.

If your friend is suffering from sudden onset grief it helps to remember that she will feel tired, numb and often experience brain fog. And she might be a little snarly. Just accept that this is her norm for the moment and don’t make a big issue out of it. If you are in the neighborhood or can spare an hour to visit, call and say so. A short unscheduled visit can do wonders to lift morale. Don’t expect your grieving friend to want to go to a movie, check out the local sales or even go out to dinner anytime soon. Anything that involves more than a shower and letting her hair dry naturally is too much effort. If a regular cleaning service isn’t evident, ask if you can vacuum the floor. If there are dishes in the sink, you might offer to unload or load the dishwasher. Small household chores are insurmountable in the face of grief. It’s easy to lose track of time and what seems a whole day of possibilities dwindles away with little accomplished.

Bring over a small bouquet or even a single bloom. For the first year, my sister bought us a bouquet of roses each week from the grocery store. Roses were Jerry’s favorite flowers and it felt right and special to sit admiring them and enjoying the fragrance. Bring a box of tea or a packet of exotic coffee and stay long enough to brew it and share a pot. But most of all, bring your funny stories and touching memories and say our loved one’s name. Say it again and again lest we think he is forgotten.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

And so grief returns.....

My Uncle Al died last week and his funeral was this past Monday. And I am once again deep in grief and mourning.
To call this man my uncle doesn't do him justice. I have literally known him all my life. He met my aunt around the same time that I was born and he has been part of my life ever since. I was flower girl for their wedding. He taught me about the world with infinite patience (why is the sky blue? what makes it rain? why? why? why?).
He read my first attempts at writing plays and short stories and gave me honest criticism. We discussed politics. He taught me how to read the editorials in the newspaper. He took me out for my first grown up drink and meal in an adult restaurant.
My mother and his wife were sisters and we all grew up together in a two family home so that I really felt as if I had five siblings (counting my cousins) instead of just the two that were my sister and brother. We vacationed together. We ate Sunday meals together. We celebrated all the holidays and milestones together.
And truth be told, I preferred him and my aunt to my own parents for reasons I choose not to go into here. Let's just say I truly bonded with them and they kept me sane while I was growing up and made me what I am today.
So losing Uncle Al is more like losing my own father because in every sense he was.
And I have been grieving ever since I heard the news.

That doesn't surprise me.
What did surprise me is the return of all the waves of grief I experienced when John passed away almost 7 years ago.
The hours filled with the inability to do absolutely anything of meaning.
The tears and paralyzing sadness.
The overwhelming grief.
I know it will pass. I know I will survive. I have in the past. I will again.
But I honor my grief now because I have been on this merry-go-round before and I know its route.
I am also experiencing surges of the need to do something - anything - to make these feelings go away, even if only for a moment.
This time, I am trying to be productive.
So, I have swept the garage, cleaned out a bookcase, washed clothes, rearranged furniture.
I have a feeling I am not done yet so here's to a cleaner house.
In the meantime, I miss you, Uncle Al.
I thank you for sharing your life with me.
I thank you for your love and guidance.
I thank you for being you and for loving me.
Until we meet again.......

Saturday, April 1, 2017

What Gifts Have You Received From Grief?

Today, I am grateful for so very much. My daughter and son are battling cancer but the doctors tell them there is a very good chance they will beat it. I am grateful for that. And I am grateful that we are in a position to ease some of their many worries. I have my health and my mind as does my Norm. I am grateful for that too. And the more I learn about grieving, the more I find I have to be grateful for. When I started working with Joy and Betts in the early days of what was to become From Grief to Peace, I knew very little about how anyone grieves. Nor did I really understand how to be a friend to someone whose heart is aching from loss.

I have learned so much.

Like so many others, I was uncomfortable around grief. To a certain degree, I still am, but I have learned that any condolences I have to offer must come from the heart and be totally sincere. I need to think before I speak. And listen before that. And most importantly, I must be present and generous with both my heart and my time.

I think back to brushes I have had in the past with losses others have lived through and really wish I could have a do-over so I could be a better friend as they grieved …

My daughter when her husband passed, leaving her with a pre-teen son to raise. She needed far more compassion than I knew to give her. And still, she persisted and despite what must have been overwhelming grief at times, she triumphed, raising an admirable young man and building a solid life for herself. I marvel at what she has accomplished despite our inattention.

My husband’s uncle whose wife died after more than 60 years of marriage. Left alone, he did what so many in his position do. He spent all his money on things he did not really need. None eased the pain. He struck up casual relationships with strange women in bars but they were hollow connections. None were his sweet Marge. Thinking now of his desperation, I so wish we had been more supportive and able to bring him closer into our world. I think not being totally alone might have helped.

My own sister, whose husband died leaving her alone with their two young girls. Somehow, she kept moving forward, but I wonder how. We never spoke of her feelings after he died and I understand now how isolated she must have felt. Where was I? Living my life but not thinking of what she was going through. Yes, I was thousands of miles away, but telephones cut that distance to nothing. I know now that the best thing I could have offered her was someone to hear and encourage her through her grief.

I feel I was seriously lacking on so many levels for all of these – and more - people who I love. But with that knowledge and self-accusation comes a level of gratitude as well. In having my eyes opened to my own failings as I have learned much more about grief, I realize that I have learned the true importance and value of treasuring every moment I have with those who are still here in my life. That is a gift of grief for me.

And so, I ask you, what are the gifts you have received from grief? Perhaps you have learned, as my daughter and sister did, that you do have the strength to endure the unimaginable. Perhaps you have discovered, like our uncle, that things and strangers cannot fill the emptiness. Or perhaps you have learned that while sorrow never completely goes away, it eventually does soften and you are able to move ahead. Each new understanding is a gift of grief. So, I ask again, what are the gifts you have received from grief?