Archive of ‘Early Mourning’ category

Anticipatory Grief

By John Polo

I talked to many social workers during the two and a half years that Michelle was sick.  We spent so much time in the hospital between the surgeries, the treatments, etc. that while she was sleeping I would often ask for a various social worker to come to talk to me in the waiting room.  My grief was so intense.  The knowledge that her cancer was so rare, so aggressive and was not going to be beat. I needed to speak to someone, to cry to someone. To pour my heart and my soul out to someone.

For all of the amazing help that these individuals gave me – and they did – they helped me SO much – nobody ever told me the medical term for what I was experiencing:  Anticipatory Grief.

A few months after Michelle passed away I stumbled across this article.

And it hit me like a ton of bricks.

Hey, that’s me!  That’s what I had!

It finally made sense.

The grief that I endured while Michelle was alive was finally explained.  Finally justified.

Anticipatory Grief.

Read this.

http://www.whatsyourgrief.com/anticipatory-grief

You can follow John Polo at http://www.betternotbitterwidower.com and on his Facebook page by searching Better Not Bitter Widower

 

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Daddy Did Something Called ‘Suicide’…and Other Things I Told My Children

By Michelle Miller

***DISCLAIMER: I am not a doctor or therapist of any kind. Deciding what you tell your children about suicide and/or the death of their parent is entirely up to you. What you decide to tell or not tell them is about knowing who they are and what they can and cannot handle based on their unique personality. The night my husband killed himself, I called our marriage counselor and discussed with him the best way to tell my children what had happened. The following blog is about the conversation I had with my kids (to the best of my memory), and is being posted with the intent to help others, not to judge what methods anyone else has used in regards to their children’s grief process.

The transcript of the conversation I had with my kids about John’s death is being shared with the permission of my children (now 10 and 14 years old). Certain parts that they found too personal have been left out, but the majority of the full conversation I had with them has remained intact. It is their desire to help other kids who have lost a parent to suicide feel less alone in their experience.

I believe talking to children about the death of a parent should never be a one-time conversation. I believe it should be a series of discussions that take place throughout their lifetime, and the following blog post was the first of those conversations.

 

THE “S” WORD

I remember when I thought the most uncomfortable conversation I’d have with my children was about sex; turns out, I was wrong. My husband John’s suicide in 2014 obliterated my fear of the sex talk; actually, his suicide pretty much obliterated everything in my life……and all of the things around my life.

And outside of my life.

And inside of my body, heart, and soul.

Ah suicide aftermath! The horrible gift that keeps on giving.

What I will not be discussing today, is the emotional environment that existed the morning I had to break the awful news to my kids. I am still (almost three years later) unable to put into words what it is and what it means to tell your kids what suicide is and that their father has just done it.

***shutter***

What I will be discussing today is the plain facts of what was said, and why I chose to tell my kids the truth. I know it is uncharacteristic of my writing, but I will be keeping humor and emotion out of it for now.

WHY I CHOSE TO TELL THEM THE TRUTH

I want all of you to know why I decided to tell my kids the truth about John’s suicide in the first place. I mean, I could’ve spared them the trauma of suicide aftermath and told him he accidentally shot himself during target practice, right?

Wrong. For our family, this would’ve been the wrong choice.

What I know about my son (who was seven years old at the time) is that he is curious, and what I know about my daughter (who was eleven at the time) is that she is highly intuitive, which is why there was no way in hell I could’ve lied to them about their father’s suicide. Not only was the term “self-inflicted” going to be on his death certificate (that they would be able to have access to one day should they ever want it), but I also knew that they would be able to tell that I was hiding something from them.

I feel like in general, we as a society tend to minimize not only the intelligence of children, but the deeply profound spiritual connection they have to their parents.

Kids know. 

Kids know more than we think, so I believe that we might as well tell them. My six years of working with elementary and middle school special needs students in addition to parenting my own, has assured me of this fact.

KIDS KNOW.

I feel like lying to my children would’ve invalidated their inner voices. It would’ve invalidated the thing whispering to them, “there’s something more to this story….” and as their mother, I’ve always believed it is one of my many jobs to teach them to not only listen to their inner voices, but to also trust those inner voices.

I felt completely confident telling them the facts about what had happened in short, easy to understand sentences. I told them a few facts that morning and answered any questions they had, while restraining (by some miracle) tears or panic in my voice.

Shock is a gift and it’s what made me able to tell my kids what had happened without having my emotions usurp their own.

 

WHAT I TOLD THEM

Setting: In their bedroom at my parent’s house, early Monday morning.

Me: We need to talk. Last night while you were sleeping, daddy died.

They: (hysterical cries)

Me: (physically comforting them without saying a word)

They: How did he die?

Me: His brain was sick. 

They: We saw him yesterday and he didn’t seem sick. 

Me: Brain sickness can be hard for other people to see. I think he hid it from us so we didn’t worry.

They: Did he just fall down and then you took him to the hospital?

Me: No. He died out in the middle of the desert. 

They: How did you know he died?

Me: He knew he was going to die, so he sent me a text message and then I called him and talked to him for a little bit before he died while Papa called 911, but by the time they found daddy, he was already dead. 

They: How did he know he was going to die? Did his brain just start hurting?

Me: Daddy did something called ‘suicide.’ His brain was so sick that it told him he shouldn’t be alive anymore. His brain told him to take a gun out to the desert and to shoot himself.

They: He shot himself?!

Me: Yes. But it wasn’t him shooting himself, it was his sick brain. If your heart stops working, you have a heart attack. If your lungs stop working you can’t breathe and you die. If your brain stops working it controls your thoughts, and your thoughts tell you that you should be dead so you do whatever you can to make yourself die.

They: (more hysterical cries)

Me: There is going to be a lot happening this week. There is already family in the living room and more people might want to come by to see us. You guys can do and say and feel whatever you want. If you don’t want people here, I’ll tell them to leave. If you want your friends here and you just want to stay in your room that’s okay too. Nothing you do will get you in to trouble except for maybe if you burn the house down (slight laughter and ease of tension). You don’t have to go to school this week unless you want to. You might hear people using phrases like, “passed away, funeral, casket, suicide, cremation” and other things that sound confusing. If you want to know what they mean, just ask me. If you have any other questions about what happened, just ask me. You will see a lot of adults cry. This might feel scary for you but it’s going to be okay. A sad thing happened and it’s okay for everyone to be sad and cry. 

*****

And just like that, their innocence was taken.

So many parents miss this. They wake up one morning to find that their children no longer exist in the realm of childhood, and they wonder when and how it happened. I got to witness the beginning of my children’s transformation into the heaviness of adulthood. They had responsibility now. They would have to learn to heal themselves. This is something I cannot do for them; this is something that cannot be taught.

I don’t remember if it was seconds or minutes, but that morning, in the presence of that unique kind of light that happens when it is still night time, but also morning, I watched my kids sleep. I watched and I savored their last moments as children before I had to teach them the one universal truth about life: that it is not fair. Dad’s die.

There will never be a greater privilege in my life than watching the last moments of their childhood.

And even with all of the darkness that took place after this, even after all of the screams and tears and coldness inside of my body that I still can’t seem to shake, this memory of them sleeping warms me.

Well, so much for me not getting emotional! I still held up on my promise to not use humor in this post though so I am half way winning!

Even after writing this, I still can’t believe this actually happened. Furthermore, I still can’t believe I have been given the gift of a forum and an audience to speak about these things on and to! Thank you all who continue to read my ramblings and commiserate with me through this train wreck called, widowhood.

© Copyright2017 Michelle Miller

Why Flowers are Not on My Widow Registry

By Michelle Miller

My third favorite “F” word is flowers,

my second favorite “F” word is food,

and I’ll let you guess what my first favorite “F” word is.

Speaking of f***ed, I think all of us widows can agree on the fact that our early postmortem memory bank is well, f***ed.  I have no memory of making funeral arrangements (“funeral” is now my least favorite “F” word), no idea if the kids even brushed their teeth that first year, and I truly have no clue why I woke up one morning during that first July of my widowhood wearing a bathrobe and black leather leggings in my front yard. What I do remember about those early days though, is the flowers.

***Disclaimer about funeral flowers before I talk sh*t about funeral flowers*** 

I heart flowers! I sure as hell can’t grow them myself, but a well arranged bouquet of flowers delivered my doorstep gives me about as much pride as I imagine one has when actually growing them in their own garden. I love flowers so much so, that my roommate/BFF/Life Partner/Co-parent- thingy, Lynnette and I compete monthly in something  we call, “The Flower Wars” in which we both see how many men and gay women we can convince with our charm to buy us flowers (side note: I am winning for the month of January).

I love flowers.

I loved getting flowers at my husband’s funeral because it meant that people were thinking of me. It also meant that they were acknowledging to me that there were no appropriate words to say in this situation. As the flower-givers approached my pew at the church the day of my husband’s funeral, the only form of communication they gave me was a sympathetic head tilt as they extended their floral filled fists (I am having “fun” trying to “fit” as many “F” words into this post as “feasible”), and for this I am eternally grateful.

My favorite people in the world are people who know that the best thing to say to a widow at the funeral is nothing.

Where was I? Oh yes, f**king funeral flowers. Now that I have proven to all of you that I love flowers in general, and the funeral-specific flowers that I received were greatly appreciated, I need to tell you not to buy me flowers next time my husband kills himself (which is highly likely since I have had two husbands within a twelve year span attempt suicide, hence why I am bat-sh*t crazy); and here’s why:

Three days after my husband John’s funeral, I began to notice one of my lovely bouquets was wilting.

You know what else wilts? Dead people.

You know who was a dead person that week? The love of my life, John.

Well, as you can imagine the sight of these wilting flowers sent me into hysterical sobs until the valium kicked in nineteen minutes and fifteen second later. Once I was a properly sedated widow, I took the next logical step in my grief: I threw all of the flowers away. I instantly felt guilty about this as I knew the people that bought them for me had the best of intentions, but I knew there simply was not enough valium in the world to help me, should I see another wilting flower.

Where did this flower buying tradition come from? I’ll bet it was the same people who invented shoelaces on toddler shoes. Neither are very logical. So, what is logical then? What should we be giving to widows and widowers at the funeral?

I suggest the invention of something I like to call, “The Widow Registry.” A lot of us begin our marriages with registering for household items, why not register for widowhood items as well? I can’t tell you the pleasure I would have gotten had the funeral director said to me, “And to the right of our mahogany casket collection, we have the Widow’s shopping area, here’s your scanner and a glass of champagne.” Now that’s how I’d like for my mourning process to start!

Sometimes I fantasize about how amazing it would have been to be standing in front of my husband’s urn at the funeral while a long line of people were handing me widow necessities and not saying a single.damn.word.

What would your widow registry have on it? Boxing gloves to punch your un-empathetic family members with? Sleeping pills and an endless supply of wine? A coupon for free babysitting services until the end of time? How about a gift certificate to your local spa?

Michelle’s widow registry would look something like this:

Gift cards for free pizzas to alleviate my, “The kids are going to starve to death because widow brain has made me forget how to cook,” guilt

An endless supply of twenty and hundred dollar bills (wait…scratch the pizza gift cards if I get this)

Gallons of Bacardi 151 rum and Titio’s Vodka with a side of air as a mixer

55 gallon drums of lotion-infused tissues

Assorted fleece sweat pants and hoodies for the lazy laundry-free three year mission I was about to embark on

Valium (funeral directors should be able to prescribe this)

Boxes and boxes of condoms for all the one-night-stand grief sex I was about to be having in the days and years following the funeral

Whatever is on your list, I want you to know that there is no statute of limitations on grief and therefore, there is no statute of limitations on the Widow Registry. Yes, I know this amazing service does not really exist, but the idea of it, of treating yourself, and allowing others to treat you, still can.

Widowhood sucks.

Even if you’re thirty-five years into it, widowhood sucks. It will suck a little less when you don’t have to cook for your kids and you have some warm fuzzy pants on during your bathroom floor cry sessions.

What has happened to you is a travesty. One of the few things religion and science both agree on is that humans were never meant to be alone, and yet, here you are. We were designed (or evolved) to be communal beings. We were meant to bond deeply, and so we have; and now that bond is irrevocably changed; and no matter how close of a relationship your husband had with other people, they all most likely get to crawl into bed at night with someone, while the widow, (that’s you!) is left with only the hope of finding the stray scent of her beloved on a pillow in the bed they once shared. If that doesn’t warrant a free babysitter and an hour-long massage at a high quality spa, I don’t know what does.

I challenge all of you to treat yourself this week and when you do, please tell me about it!

© Copyright 2017 Michelle Miller

R E S P E C T Find Out What It Means To Me

By Cathy Nelson

The past few weeks I have been pondering the meaning of the word respect. It seems that a fair amount of posts on social media are written about this subject. In fact, the last post I read said, “Once you lose my respect, it’s gone. I will never respect you again.”

Once, after I had spent a few months in my new widowhood, someone said to me, “If you do that, I will lose all respect for you.” Looking back, I have come to realize what that person was actually saying to me was, “If you do that, you will be going against what I want you to do, and I will be upset because I no longer have any control over you.”

What does a statement like that have to do with respect? Nothing! Moreover, it wasn’t even about me but rather about the person saying it.

In truth, it’s a statement of control, and it asserts something to the effect of: “I do not approve of your choice, and I am using the threat of losing my respect in order to control you so you make the choice I think you ought to make!”

Anyone who embraces the concept of respect would never hold respect over someone’s head as a form of manipulation or control!

I am learning more and more that respect is not something you win or lose, earn or take away, or something you can hold over someone’s head. Respect is something you either have or do not, and it all begins with you. Making a choice based on someone holding the concept of respect over your head means you have no respect for yourself, so you attempt to gain it through others. I know that the more I do that, the more I feel something missing inside of me – that being respect for myself.

Respect is not a defiance of others either. It’s simply a form of honoring yourself and recognizing that, even as a widow, you’re still alive – that you still have worth and your life has purpose and meaning AND that you respect yourself enough to pursue your dreams – even if others don’t believe this to be true. When I respect myself, I automatically respect others.

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My Wake Up Call

By Cathy Nelson

Before my husband Ray died, I used to “go along, to get along.” In fact, I think I spent my life trying to please others. For example, I would do or say whatever I thought would make someone else’s life better or easier. If I took on the blame, or let someone else take the credit, I was making the ultimate sacrifice, which I believed would enable others to love and accept me.

My wake-up call came at the funeral home on the day I was to view my husband’s body for the last time. It was to be just me, my daughter, my son-in-law and my grandson. This moment in my mind was to be shared only with them. It was my desire that the four of us would have a very private, personal few moments together. Unfortunately, it was not to be.

An outsider decided to make his presence more important than my wishes. This person stayed in the room and took over tender conversations that I alone wanted to have with my grandson. Additionally, this person gave answers to questions not asked and offered prayers without invitation.

I stood in shocked silence while letting this all take place because I did not want to disappoint anyone. After all, even in that moment, everyone else’s feelings were more important than mine … I thought! After all, I was a people-pleaser. Hmm… does the word doormat come to mind?

A few days after the funeral home experience, I just woke up. It was like I had been sleeping my whole life. I became determined that I would never ever again allow someone to rob me of my power.

Speaking up for myself at times has not been easy. I must admit, as I master this new skill, I have made some mistakes. However, it is a skill worth learning, so I will keep trying because loving myself is what gives me the power to love others.

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Inner Wisdom

By Cathy Nelson

imageDuring my life, I have often sought permission from others to go ahead and do what my heart was telling me. This habit hasn’t always served me well.

Consequently, today I want to suggest the following to my widow sisters. Give yourself permission to:

~ forget the stages of grief and grieve in the manner that suits you the best;
~ love yourself;
~ pay attention to yourself;
~ put yourself and your needs first;
~ run away;
~ ignore those who do not understand;
~ let go of old friends who judge you;
~ find new friends who do understand you;
~ laugh and laugh and then laugh some more;
~ cry whenever and wherever you want;
~ never forget;
~ sell your house and move;
~ redecorate your house;
~ begin dating at the time which is comfortable for you;
~ go back to school;
~ quit your job and find a new one;
~ lose weight;
~ begin to exercise;
~ welcome your new life;
~ let go of the guilt including berating yourself with “would of, could of, and should of”;
~ ignore what others are telling you to do and listen to your own intuition

It’s okay; it’s okay; it’s all okay!!!

Whatever it is YOU desire. – go for it. Please know that you don’t need my permission or anyone else’s permission to follow your heart! My widow sisters, your life is yours to live as you see fit and don’t let anyone tell you differently!!!!

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Hope Fulfilled

By Cathy Nelson

I finished a book. In fact, I have finished two books!!!! I love to read!

I’ve been an avid reader my whole life. After Ray died, I developed a problem with my ability to concentrate. I would start a book only to read the same sentence repeatedly and then finely put the book away, having lost all interest in it.

I spent hours reading while caring for my late husband. I read as he and I waited for test results, as I sat by his bed while he slept, and while he was having medical test or procedures done. I read and read and read some more. Reading was my escape from reality.

As a child, my mother would take my books away as a punishment. I still remember her putting them on top of the refrigerator out of my reach until my chores were completed. The point is, I love to read, and after Ray died, I lost my love of reading due to my lack of concentration. I thought my love affair with books was over.

Oh, how I hoped that as time passed my concentration in the reading department would return. I am so grateful that grief did not win this one!! PTSD did not win this one!! I’m reading again!!image

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Living In The Moment

By Cathy Nelson

As a new widow, one of the hardest things for me to do was learning to live in acceptance of what my new reality had become. I remember going places and looking at the families and thinking, “My family will never be like that family.”

I began to discover that acceptance of what is involved living my life in the present time or living moment to moment. Thinking about the past, or projecting into the future, did nothing to bring back my old life or take away my fear of the future.

As the years have passed, I have come to realize that my present life is different. It’s not better or worse – just different. Finding joy and hope in what is can be a struggle, as you come to terms with the loss of your husband. I believe that if you can just hold on and face your grief without judgment or denial you just might be able to come to a place of acceptance, hope and joy.image

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My Journey of Self- Discovery

By Cathy Nelson

 

A few years ago, I read the book Eat Pray Love by Elizabeth Gilbert. The author tells the story of divorcing her husband, quitting her job and traveling the world in order to find herself. As I read her book, I remember thinking that was a very selfish act on her part. Personally, I would never leave my family to go find myself. Who does that?

Then my husband of thirty-five years died. My children were grown with families of their own. I was alone for the first time in my life. I instinctively knew that in order to survive I, too, would have to go in search of myself.

I began to – not just grieve but – really grieve. By that I mean, I let myself descend into the depths of pain, which before the loss of my late husband I had never experienced. I wrote and wrote in my grief journal about my thoughts, my life, my love and my pain. I began to pray like I never had before, and I called on God for help and comfort.

Next, I began to eat. For the first time in my life, I had no need or worries about feeding anyone else. I just had to take care of me. What a weird feeling it is to just be responsible for yourself, especially after so many years of being a wife and mother. I got to drink all the green smoothies I wanted, and I even had popcorn for dinner if I chose.

Soon, love came into my life and from a very unexpected source. I embraced that new love, knowing that it was a part of the path I desired to follow in order to find my spirituality and my new life. In essence, it was a gift from my God.

This morning, I woke up thinking about Elizabeth Gilbert and her book. Then I realized that I had, in fact, gone on my own journey of self-discovery. However, unlike Ms. Gilbert, I did not travel to Italy to eat, or India to pray, or Bali, Indonesia to find love. I stayed in my own country while I prayed for my healing, ate to care for myself, and learned to love myself and others.

Has your widowhood put you on your own journey of self-discovery? Throughout my journey, I was (and still am) spurred on by the memories of my late husband and his love of life, his constant search for new adventure, and his willingness to accept and love others. The fact that I take time for myself is helping me to become a better person while honoring his memory.

Feel free to comment and tell the group about the path you’re traveling.

 

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City Of Widows

By Cathy Nelson

Even before I became a widow, I was fascinated with Vrindavan, India, which is also known as the City of Widows. This is a city to which the shunned widows of India are sent by their family members. Here, these widows are reduced to poverty and roam the streets begging for their food. These once cherished mothers, daughters and sisters are forced to wear white, shave their heads, cannot wear jewelry, shunned by their own children and family members, and even their shadows are considered bad luck. In other words, simply by the act of becoming a widow, these women also lose all of their social rights.

About two months after my husband died, I became filled with an intense desire to travel to the City of Widows. I felt the pull of sisterhood, and I just wanted to walk with them for a little while to, perhaps, feel their pain alongside of them. I never got to go – at least, not yet.

Sometimes, we widows also feel shunned by our families and friends. We feel left out, and, often, it seems as if our whole identity evaporates with the loss of our husbands. Like our widow sisters in India, I have even felt that my shadow is considered bad luck by some.

So, what is left for us? Something really great – lots of hopes, dreams, and even miracles. Despite what losses we’ve experienced, we always retain the power to change our own lives and, thus, create our futures. We are free to live without self-imposed restrictions. If we choose to, we can go back to school; travel; lose weight; date; re-marry; create loving extended family relationships; forgive; practice kindness; and a million more things.

Our pain can become our fuel to create our life. I know it’s not the life we planned, but it IS the life we get to have. So we might as well embrace it with the most enthusiasm and joy that you can muster!

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