Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Becoming Your Own Grief Expert

A book is a version of the world.   
If you do not like it, ignore it; 
or offer your own version in return.
~Salman Rushdie~

I read this quote this morning.  Which was incredibly timely, considering what I had decided to attempt to write about.

Becoming your own grief expert.

I’m no grief expert.  I would never pretend to be.  I’ve read a lot, gone through a lot of counseling, and been through a few mediums.  But I’m still not a grief expert.

What I am an expert on…is my own grief.

I’ll never forget, going into my counselor’s office about a year after my husband died.  I had read books, become well-versed on the stages of grief, and thought I knew enough to determine one thing:

I was grieving the wrong way.

“I’m grieving backwards!”  I cried to my therapist.  “I’ve spent months running around at a break-neck pace when it seems like every other widow I’ve read about spends the entire first year in bed.  I’ve just hit the 1 year mark and now I don’t want to get out of bed!  I’ve spent months convincing myself that my marriage wasn’t so great and that I can do better and now I think it was so amazing I’ll never find anything like it again.  I didn’t feel like life had ended the moment he died…it took me an entire year to feel that way.  I’m doing this all wrong.

My counselor spent the next hour trying to convince me that there was no wrong way to go about what I was attempting to do:  Deal with the loss of my husband.  But it took years – and a lot of soul searching - for that to really sink in.

You see, I had spent so long “studying” what other people were saying…that I forgot to listen to myself.  I was scrambling for black and white information and forgetting to apply what I’d learned to me and how I cope…which makes that black and white information a lot grayer and a lot more helpful.  Some of the things I read would make me feel less alone…and some of it would make me feel worse because I couldn’t relate to it and thought that since this person had sold a ton of books…they knew me better than I did.  And while clinical experts have their place in the world, acknowledging phases of grief that we will all go through, they were not educated in the one thing that made all of their theories come together.


I was taking all of that information so literally that it made me feel like a failure.  I was listening to so many outside sources – who were saying that certain years were the worst or that I shouldn’t be ready to date until a certain amount of time had passed – that when I felt differently (and kept it to myself because I was worried that others would think I didn’t love my husband enough to grieve by the book), I felt that much worse.  I forgot to take myself into account.  I forgot to put myself into the equation.  And when I did…it changed everything.

Of course I started dating early.  I’ve never liked to be alone.  Why would that have changed after my husband’s death?

Of course, some years were harder than others.  But it wasn’t the year that had been specified to me.  My hardest year was different…and in different ways.  And if I can be honest…my hardest times were also the most eye-opening for me as far as who I was and who I was becoming.

It suddenly made perfect sense why I was trying to convince myself that my marriage wasn’t so great.  I was trying to cope.  I was trying to tell myself that maybe there were better things ahead.  I wasn’t a bad person.  I was just trying to give myself hope for the future.

It wasn’t until I turned inward and really started listening to myself – the best expert on my own grief that I know – that I began to understand what I was truly going through.  That I can read books about grief…but until I actually apply them to my life and who I am…they really won’t help at all.

Education is key.  Just don’t forget to learn about the most important element when it comes to dealing with grief.


Monday, January 23, 2012

Fantasizing Normal

This may come as a shock to you all…but I’m a talker.

I’m waiting for the collective gasp to finish.

I love people.  Always have.  I love talking to people I know, to strangers, to strange people I know (you know who you are).  Everyone has a story and something to say.  And usually I love hearing it.

I’m the girl in a 10-deep line at the grocery store you end up telling your life story to…because she really wants to know.  I’m the one who is really close to her favorite teller at the bank because the suckers are good and I like hearing stories about what’s going on in her life.  I know every detail of my hairdresser’s life…down to what her kids want to do when they grow up and how she loves being married the second time around.

Yes.  I’m that girl.

Widowhood has made that a little difficult, though, because even though I like talking to people…I hate making anyone feel uncomfortable around me.  And nothing says “uncomfortable” like “dead husband.”

I have a feeling that that added bonus to widowhood is something I will never get used to.

I was in line at Eddie Bauer the other day, talking – yes, talking – to the old guy behind me.  He’d tried to strike up a conversation with the guy behind him who obviously did not have the gift of gab and so he turned around and started talking to me (and I chose to ignore the fact that I was his second choice).  The kids had each found a chair near the front door to relax in while I stuck to my guns and stayed in a 30 minute line in order to buy a $5 scarf that I didn’t know I wanted, but in that moment absolutely had to have.  So, while they were being uncharacteristically calm…I found myself with a little time to spare.

“I remember when my son was that age,” the old guy said, looking at the kids. “He wouldn’t sit still.”

“How old is your son now?”  I asked.

“Oh, he’s in his 30s.  Graduated from the Air Force Academy and living in Hawaii.”

“Really?  What year did he graduate?”


“You’re kidding!”  I said without even thinking about it.  “That’s the year my husband graduated from the Academy, too!”

And the second it was out of my mouth, I wanted to run away.  “Please don’t ask me what he does now,” I thought.  “Please don’t make me have to say it.”  I looked over at where the kids were sitting, blissfully unaware of this conversation, and made a decision:  Should the conversation keep going, I would lie.

Yes.  I would lie.  For just a minute I would pretend that he was working in Virginia that weekend.  Or that he was home watching football.  That my life was so normal…I had nothing of interest to report.

I stood there, while the guy kept talking, my heart pounding in my ears, nervously anticipating the moment when he would ask me a question, and I would spin a web of lies, fantasizing out loud what my life would actually be like right now if things were different.  If things had never changed.

But it didn’t come.  I got my life-altering $5 scarf, said “have a nice day” to the man, and collected the kids.  The fantasy dissipated in the bright winter sun that was bouncing off the snow on the ground.  The kids ran ahead of me, anxious to get in the car and away from retail hell and I watched them bounding down the sidewalk and stopping just before they made it to the parking lot.

“What an idiot I am,” I thought to myself, as I watched them talk at once, argue for a minute, and then start smacking each other while I fished my keys out of my purse.

“My life is normal.”

Friday, January 6, 2012

They're Here...2012 Widda Giddaways!

When my husband died, back in 2007, I tried desperately to find things to look forward to.  I wanted to set myself up on a schedule and have at least one fun thing set up, once a quarter, so that I could say to myself, “If you can just make it to (here), you’ll be doing something fun and distracting.”

One of the major things I wanted to do was travel.  My husband never really liked to travel much because he was often out of town for work.  So during his down-time…the last thing he wanted to do was pack another bag.

So when he died, I decided that I would start.  But there was a small problem.

I didn’t want to travel alone.

I liked the idea of having alone time, but I wasn’t crazy about just completely striking out alone and not having anyone to meet for dinner.  The idea of walking around alone or just not having anyone to talk to during the trip honestly sounded pretty lonely to me.  And if there was anything I was trying to escape…it was “lonely.”

I have a feeling that I’m not the only one who feels that way.  SO…I have decided to partner with a wonderful woman named Susan at Endless Travel (her contact information is at the bottom) and coordinate a few trips this year for those people who are interested in traveling…but would also really like to meet up with people and connect.  And here is how they’re going to work.

  • ·         These trips do NOT involve any sort of seminars or sessions.  They are vacations.  I will be doing other retreats, but these trips are meant to be loose and solely for those who are looking to travel but don’t want to go alone.
  • ·         On the first night of each trip, we are setting up a group dinner, reserving tables for the people with theWiddahood group, so that you can get to know each other a little and find each other for the rest of the trip.  Connecting past that one night is entirely up to you.  So if you feel like you would like some alone time…you can.  If you want to hang with people, it’s up to you to make those connections and set up some stuff to do together during the trip.
  • ·         I will send an email to each of you, asking your permission to send out email addresses to the group before the trip begins.  If you are not comfortable with that, I will not include your contact information.  But some people may want to email back and forth before they go so that they truly feel like they know someone before they leave.
  • ·         Please note that I may not personally be on every trip.  As much as I would LOOOOVE to, I have kids and bills just like all of us!  I’m going to make as many as I can and for those that I can’t…I expect lots of pictures and a full report from those of you who are going!
  • ·         As a favor, I ask that you spread the word about these trips.  You never know who might be looking for them and I know that all of us network in different circles, both physically and virtually.  You might be telling someone who has been looking for something just like this to look forward to...just get through his/her day!  You do NOT have to join the website (www.theWiddahood.com) to be a part of these trips.  The details are also listed on our homepage under Upcoming Events.
And now…the part you’ve been waiting for….


The Family Trip:

The first trip we have scheduled right now is a Carribean cruise on Royal Carribean’s Freedom of the Seas.  This vacation is geared towards widows and widowers who would like to include their children.  You are more than welcome to come without kids, but keep in mind that many of the people going will have theirs.  

You and your family will explore the wonders of the Caribbean including the private island of CocoCay, Bahamas which is 140 acres of absolutely nothing but secluded surf, sun and sand. Enjoy ice skating, riding the flow rider, rock climbing and more.  Looking for something to occupy you and your kids over the Fourth of July (so that you have one less holiday to worry about)?  This cruise will start on July 1st and you will have a blast with your kids and new widda friends for 7 nights.


Sun 01 Jul

Mon 02 Jul

Tue 03 Jul

Wed 04 Jul

Thu 05 Jul

Fri 06 Jul

Sat 07 Jul

Sun 08 Jul


7 Night Eastern Caribbean Cruise starting from 1044.00 *per person
Ship Name: Freedom Of The Seas
Destination: Caribbean
2012 Sail Date(s): July 1, 2012
Interior:  $1044.00
Balcony:  $1334.00

(Taxes per person:  $85.71, port charges per person:  $175)

10-Day Trip to Northern Italy:

For this trip, we are actually piggy-backing on a women’s tour that Susan has already started to coordinate.  The nice thing about this is that if you would like to include a mom, daughter, sister, or just a friend…you are more than welcome to invite them along.   It starts on September 27th and goes for 10 glorious days until October 7th.

As with all of the trips, we will have the welcome dinner on the first night and will reserve a table (or tables) only for theWiddahood group so that you all can get to know each other. 

Sorry, to all of my widowers…this is a women only trip.

The price includes your accommodations (all 4 and 5 star hotels), tours/transportation, and the meals that are in parenthesis on each day.

So, here’s an idea of what you’ll be doing:

Day 1:   Arrive in Milan, Italy: Time to rest or start exploring Milan, vibrant hub of Italy’s economic miracle. At 6 pm, meet your Tour Director and traveling companions for a welcome dinner at the hotel. (Dinner)

Day 2:   Milan–Soragna–Parma: In the morning, enjoy a walking tour with a Local Guide and visit the magnificent gothic DUOMO and the glass-domed GALLERIA. Also see the famous La Scala Opera House. On your way to Parma, world famous for its ham and parmesan cheese, stop at Soragna for a PARMESAN CHEESE TASTING.  Later, for the food-lovers, an optional excursion to an original ham factory is available. (Breakfast)

Day 3:   Parma. Excursion to Modena and Maranello: This morning, your guided sightseeing will focus on the Romanesque cathedral, the bell tower, and the octagonal baptistry made of pink Verona marble. Next, enjoy a BALSAMIC VINEGAR TASTING near Modena, and learn all about this typical Italian product. Continue to nearby Maranello, birthplace of the Ferrari automobile, for an exciting visit to the FERRARI GALLERY. Afternoon and evening are at leisure. (Breakfast)

Day 4:   Parma–Lucca: Enjoy a walk through the medieval town of Lucca with its ramparts and spend time in its pretty center. This evening you may wish to join an optional dinner outing to a local agriturismo to try out local specialties.  (Breakfast)

Day 5:   Lucca–Boat Excursion to Cinque Terre–Santa Margherita Ligure: A scenic day! Drive to La Spezia on the Mediterranean coast and enjoy your excursion (including a BOAT RIDE, weather permitting) to CINQUE TERRE, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The name dates back to the 15th century and is derived from five medieval little villages standing on stony spurs along five miles of the rocky coastline: Riomaggiore, Manarola, Corniglia, Vernazza, and Monterosso. From here, enjoy a TRAIN RIDE to Rapallo, then continue by coach to Santa Margherita Ligure. (Breakfast, Dinner)

Day 6:  At Leisure in Santa Margherita Ligure: A full day to enjoy this beautiful seaside resort. You may wish to join an optional excursion to nearby Portofino, a small fishing village with brightly colored houses that became home to the “rich and famous.” (Breakfast)

Day 7: Santa Margherita Ligure–Asti–Turin: Enter the Langhe area and arrive in Asti, known for its spumante and Barbera wines. Here, enjoy a WINE TASTING. Time afterwards in town, then visit a local NOUGAT CONFECTIONER and savor a piece of hand-made torrone before continuing to Turin, capital of Piedmont and birthplace of the Fiat car. This evening you may wish to try out one of Turin’s restaurants. (Breakfast)

Day 8:   Turin: During your sightseeing with a Local Guide, admire the 548-feet-high Mole Antonelliana, symbol of Turin, and the Lingotto Fiera, the former Fiat factory that was transformed into an impressive multi-function center by architect Renzo Piano. Next, walk through the historic center and visit the CATHEDRAL that houses the Holy Shroud. (Breakfast)

Day 9:   Turin–Vercelli–Milan: This morning, visit a RICE FACTORY in Vercelli. Learn everything about its traditional products and enjoy a risotto lunch before returning to Milan. This evening, enjoy an included farewell dinner with wine at one of Milan’s fine restaurants to celebrate the success of your Italian vacation. (Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner)

Day 10:   Milan: Your vacation ends. (Breakfast)
PRICES:(per person land only rates)
- $2399 double occupancy
- $2811 single occupancy
- $2355 triple occupancy
- Air available on request, please contact Endless Travel for pricing
DEPOSIT: $250 per person
FINAL PAYMENT: July 25, 2012


If you are interested in either one of these trips, please contact Susan Hammond:
Endless Travel
28265 Highway 74
Suite A
Evergreen, CO 80439
303-674-6616- office


Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Memories Tapping Me on the Shoulder

I was at the mall alone today, returning a few things from the holidays, looking at clothes that the “experts” say are in style (did anyone really perfect the poncho look?), and generally just enjoying shopping without having to worry about whether or not my kids would knock over an entire display of purses…when something happened that hadn’t happened to me in a while.

As I was leaving a store, I felt a tap on my shoulder and when I turned around a woman said to me, “I know you.”

And I said, “I know you, too.”  But I couldn’t quite place from where.

“The country club,” she said, her eyes filling up with tears.

And then I remembered.

I know “the country club” sounds kind of high fa-lootin’ but it really wasn’t.  In our neighborhood, the only way we could enjoy the pool in the summer was by joining the country club at the bottom of the hill.  So when my husband and I moved to the neighborhood, we joined.

We quickly figured out that they had the best brunches in town.  And the BEST part was that they charged each adult $10…but kids under 6-years-old were free.  So, there was a time when we could take the kids for a nice breakfast…and pay $20 for a family of 5.

We couldn’t even eat at McDonald's for that much.

This was the best kept secret in town because hardly anyone ever went.  So it was usually us, with our 3 toddling children, dressed up in their Sunday best, sitting down to a plate of endless eggs and waffles.  And we got to know the staff there pretty well.

This was especially helpful to me when my husband was traveling.  I could take all of the kids there by myself…and the waitresses helped me out.  If I had to take one to the bathroom, someone would just sit at the table and make toddler-talk with whoever was left.  There was a time in my life when that was the only meal I didn’t cook during the week because that was the only place I was brave enough to take the kids on my own.

But having her remember, after all these years…I just couldn’t believe it.

“I loved your family,” she said, her eyes watering.  “I just couldn’t believe what happened.  Your husband looked like such an amazing dad.  I just loved it when you guys came in.”

As I always do, I waved away her concern about our welfare, assuring her that we were doing fine and that they kids were going on with life, as they should.  But inside, I was touched.  I was sad.  I was remembering a time in my life that I just couldn’t believe was gone.  And I was amazed that someone I had no idea we’d even made an impression on…remembered it too.

He is missed.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Feeling "Blocked"? It May Be Time to Add a Little Life to Your Life

Photo by Valerie Koop
When I started this blog back in 2010 (has it really been that long?), I remember stating a fear to a friend of mine:

“I’m going to write this for a few months and then I’m going to run out of things to write about!  Then what am I going to do?”

And here we are.  Almost a year and a half later.  And I’m still typing away.

I don’t really know why I thought that.  I mean, I have years and years of memories of a life well-lived (or at least attempted).  It’s just not possible that all of those years can be summed up in a few months of blogs.  And if it that’s the case…then that probably meant that I’d stopped digging deep enough.

I started to notice a pattern with myself.  That if I suddenly got stumped or hit the inevitable writer’s block…that meant I’d been inside too long.  It meant I wasn’t doing enough with my life.  It meant that I wasn’t living enough in the present to even successfully remember the past.

I know that sounds odd, but part of remembering the past, remembering the people that we loved who are now gone…is living in the present.  It’s going on a walk and feeling the sunshine on you and either wishing your spouse was with you…or knowing that he is.  It’s going to places you might have been with him and remembering what you did.  It’s going to places maybe he never went to and wishing he was here…but also recognizing that you are. 

I know what I’m suggesting might sound painful.  And it can be.  But I firmly believe that part of the grieving process is getting out there and living, feeling what you’re going to feel, so that you can keep moving forward and start feeling new things.  I’m not suggesting that you visit the church you were married in, your in-laws, and the hospital your babies were born in all in the same day.  But a little bit at a time is what might start helping you through this process.  I won’t lie to you.  There will be times when you cry and when you feel that unbelievable tug in your chest that only someone who has been through loss can feel.

But the truth is, you can’t shut it out.  Unfortunately, for many of us, the grieving process is just a part of us now.  And it will be whether we sit inside alone or go out to dinner in a restaurant that either our spouse loved…or would have loved.  That’s what I’ll always have to write about:  The life I had before and the life I have now.  And how they’re working together to create the new me I’ve become.

Just like you.

The bottom line is:  If you’re starting to feel like you have nothing to “write” about…it may be time to get out there and start living so you do.

Happy 2012, everybody.