When the Directors of the Hope for Widows Foundation asked me to post something in honor of the Jewish High Holidays and our Jewish Hope Sisters, I truly began to think. This thinking seemed to be exactly right since the High Holidays are meant to be a time to reflect on the past year and our actions. And a time to reflect on what we can do to be sealed in the book of life.
Here is how my thoughts went:
Should the greeting be a simple L’Shana Tova — just a Happy New Year?
Should the greeting be more complex and have explanations of the Holiday and the Days of Awe?
Should I reflect and try to write about my past year and ask each of you to do the same?
Should we focus on the traditional blessings of our holidays and remember our loved one as a blessing?
Should we focus on something more specific to widows; like how difficult these holidays can be?
How can I even do this as a convert to Judaism prior to my marriage– surely some of you know much more than me?
So here is what I decided:
My wish for all of us (non- Jewish Hope Sisters as well) and the wish of the Hope For Widows Foundation Board is for everyone to be blessed with the sweetness of life. May the year 5778 be as happy and healthy as possible and may we see our love and support for each other continue to help all of us on our journeys. May the New Year help us continue to grow towards peace and wholeness.
Those pesky “on this day seven years ago” Facebook running reminders are torturous.
On this day seven years ago I was at the Brooklyn Arts Museum with my husband. We weren’t married or engaged at the time, but dating. We’d together for 14 months, and I must’ve been inebriated when I agreed to go to the art museum. I cannot recall a time when I willingly ventured to look at art. My mother has years and years of data supporting this. Cleaning a bathroom is more appealing than looking at an art exhibit. Heck, getting a tetanus shot is more enticing to me than spending an hour in an art museum.
The way I look at the twisted figures on the canvas, with knives for fingers and buttons for eyes, is probably the same way people look at me when I complain about my legs hurting after a 12-mile run.
“That’s ri-damn-diculous. I don’t get it.”
I know, I don’t either.
But until there’s a bloodied ear laying next to the painter, or feet tattered and blistered after a run, no one suspects either one being a form of self-harm.
I signed up for a full marathon, and it’s in 12 days. I will be running 26.2 miles, and before you roll your eyes, and wonder “what are you trying to prove?” This is my rebuttal.
My grief made me do it. I don’t know why I went to the art museum seven years ago. And I don’t know why I thought it was a good idea to sign up for a marathon. Because it has been excruciating. And I’m tired all the time.
But it’s not the hardest thing I’ve had to do.
Not even close.
The hardest thing I’ve had to do in my entire life was when I was 28 years old. I was getting off the Q Train in Brooklyn with my dad. We were heading to the funeral parlor so I could sign the cremation papersfor my husband and pick out the urn I will receive his ashes. With the flick of a pen and a bunch of check-offs, the deal was made. We headed back to my apartment where my husband was still alive.
It burns my soul to sign off on those papers as he breathed. And in his absence, my soles ache in the redundancy of figuring out how to make these elusive sorrows into something tangible.
Running is my therapy, just like how a fifth of vodka numbs the agony for others. When my muscles are screaming and begging me to stop, it gives the unexplainable pain of losing a spouse a pinpointed feeling. When my knees ache or toenails pop off, those weeks of painstaking bullshit of finding a single piece of paper required for life insurance can now be easily described. There are setbacks, stops, starts, restarts, aches, doubt, and finally triumph. Especially on longer runs, there’s a way to get to the end, whether I’m sobbing, crawling, or limping. I’m going to do it.
Training for a marathon is nothing like grief. But marathon training certainly evokes feelings of grief. And being tired all the time reminded me of insomnia the weeks and months after his death.
I remember sitting in a car with my parents just two hours away from my house on my way to Rhode Island days after he died. Staring out the car window at the trees coated with frost, wishing I was back home. I wanted to be back home where my life wasn’t falling apart. And surrounded by his things, because even those eventually were going to have to be removed from my world too. It becomes inevitable my life was going to begin to shapeshift and become unrecognizable as time separates.
When I was running a few weeks ago, I’d been out running for two hours or so, and these feelings of loss began percolating. This memory of my trip to Rhode Island, which I thought was laid to rest, returned. I felt the coolness of the November morning on my brow, even with the summer Alabama sun beating down on my scalp. I wanted to be back home, but I was 6 and a half miles away from home. What do I do?
One forward step at a time.
These moments of deep torment are opportunities to shed one’s skin and push along the process of renewal and paint a new portrait. The screaming pain of wishing it will be over soon will eventually pass. When it does, I’ll be stronger the next time. With grief, we take it one day at a time, and “we’ll get there.” And the same thing about running. One mile at a time and “we’ll get there.” It’ll be disorienting at the end, but I’ll find joy knowing I was capable of doing it.
Happy Anniversary, George and thank you for giving me the strength to successfully push my body to limits I never believed I could do.
It was the second July since my husband John’s suicide and my first July living in San Diego. My best friend since teenage-hood, Lynnette and I were desperate to get away from our five children. We had recently become roommates and drink-as-we-might to blend our two single-mom families into one, there just wasn’t enough alcohol to make this recent cohabitation less noisy and cramped.
So we left the older kids in charge, packed an ice chest and headed to what has always been our salvation: the beach.
This time though, for added sanity, we went to the nude beach.
Nudity has been such an important part of my grief. Nudity has been such an important part of Lynnette’s life. As long as I exist, I will never meet anyone more secure in their own skin as Lynnette is. I have learned a lot from her about the kind of power that we, as women possess and how to harness this power into the return of the self confidence my husband had taken from me with his shotgun.
The weather was impossibly perfect-or maybe it’s just that my memory of that day was. The humidity was just enough to make the natural waves of my hair bounce, but not enough to make them frizz. The sun was bright enough to illuminate Lynnette’s tattoos but the occasional haze of clouds was dark enough to hide the fact that her large tattoos were covering the names of exes.
We spent the first hour or so, comparing the genitalia of the nude, middle -added European men, and then after much laughter, we had to conspire a plan about how to discreetly pee in the ocean. It was decided the best course of action was to wade into the water up to our belly buttons, stay five feet away from each other and then just let it go while looking out at the horizon and avoiding eye contact with everyone. And so we waded out.
Peeing while naked in the ocean sounds so much easier than it actually is.
Mainly because of the waves and inhibition. One second you’re covered by water from your breasts down, and the next, the water is at your ankles and naked strangers will be able to see the yellow trickle running down your legs. From start to finish it took us both thirty full minutes to intermittently drain our bladders.
When we turned to walk back to the shore I saw a young couple. He had on Oakley sunglasses, the same kind my husband had on, on our wedding day, and she had on an impossibly wide smile the same kind I had on, on our wedding day. It was then that I remembered
It was also then that I realized I had forgotten this fact about my life-for the first time in a year and a half-for thirty whole minutes.
Lynnette and I spent the remainder of that day naked and discussing our future. Should we buy a house this year or rent? Did she get my social security number correct when she put me as the beneficiary to her life insurance? Which one of our children is most likely to be gay? Who keeps leaving the dirty dish towels in the sink? Which one of us gets to go on a date this week and which one of us has to stay home with the kids? Should we attempt to hang our own Christmas lights this year?
Lynnette is my Chapter Two.
It is widely accepted within the widowed community that a “Chapter Two,” as they call it, is the love you find after your partner’s death. I don’t know why everyone tends to equate this with romantic love. Sex does not define your Chapter Two, hope does. Your Chapter Two is the person, animal, or thing that encourages you to live again, and instills you with hope. Your Chapter Two is what you are surrounded with in that moment you dare to dream again.
Who or what is your Chapter Two? Is your Chapter Two even human? Do you spend your Friday nights planning a road trip with your four-legged friend? If you do, that four-legged friend is your Chapter 2. Is your Chapter Two your recent discovery of the peace that washes over you when you perform a monologue on stage for the first time ever? New found hobbies, passions, and desires can also be your Chapter Two.
Think outside of the widowed box today. Stop lamenting on the fact that you may never find romantic love again, and start looking around for the love that is already in your life.
Growing up, I’d sleep with the hallway light on to be safe from the monsters of darkness.When I was four, five or six years old if I heard a stir, real or not, I’d climb out of bed and pitter-patter to my sister’s room and creek the door open.
“I had a nightmare.”
She would shift over and make room for me on her twin bed, and I’d snuggle up against her, and she would be there to keep the monsters away.
My sister was with me too the night before my husband died. She flew from Germany to New Jersey to lay by my side. But curled next to her with the haunting hums of oxygen ventilator assisting him toward the inevitable, nothing was going to make this monster go away. As much as she held me, brushed my hair and allowed me to stick my hands underneath his body so I could grab the last moments of his warmth to remember, and love from her or anyone else wasn’t going to fix this.
This monster is locked inside of me. And the scars are out of plain view. You’d never know it existed, but every day I wake up with it scratching and shredding my insides like ribbons wanting to escape. And some days when I feel empty and cold it does, then others it fades into a quiet slumber until the ratchet noises from the outside trigger the beast to rise.
How do you fight something no one else can see, but you feel it all the time?
“Time heals all wounds,” is the common platitude. “Grief evolves,” others will spew out. But what happens when in one miscalculated thought, it rattles the monster’s cage? How do you calm the pulsating hum from becoming a roar?
“I hate myself,” I tapped on my phone in a blog post in April 2014. That evening, I was blasted out of my mind on a train back to my apartment in New Jersey. I shouldn’t have been alone on the train, but I was, and the monster had a platform to express. All self-control vanished.
I felt abandoned by my friends, and the emotions were unreasonable, the anger entirely unjustified. But somehow I managed to string together sentences and words that made sense to nobody. The subtext was to inflict pain on people I cared about. I kept every word the monster wrote as a reminder, and I need to be better. This monster will never incapacitate me again to hurt people who are trying their best to help me go through the labyrinth of widowhood. They also have no idea what the fuck to do with me as much as I don’t know what the fuck to do with me.
I learned two valuable lessons from that April train ride:
1.) Do not tie the noose around the neck of your friends, when you are dangling from the gallows.
2.) It was time to find an efficient way to grieve.
When the monster didn’t let me sleep, I’d grab my running shoes, strap the mental baggage close to me as I shut the door behind me to hit the trails. The moments when the beast inside me was too much to handle, I stumbled, hit the ground, crawled, even begged. But I got back up fitter and stronger for the next battle.
My way of grieving might not be for everyone, but finding an effective way to manage the unpredictability of life after loss changed me as a person. I don’t want to hate myself. I can hate what happened. But self-abandonment is unacceptable and compromising who I am as a person isn’t who my husband fell in love with. His warmth is what I want to remember. I held on to it so his light continues to shine the hallways so I can live well.
I used to doodle in class or in meetings. Well, it turns out doodling is actually helpful for concentration and stress relief. I was doodling to help me understand, stay focused, and deal with stress.
All of us are experts on stress since grief is a huge stressor. So, it makes sense that doodling just may help us feel a bit better. This brings us to something known as Zentangling.
What in earth is that you ask? Well, Zentangling is really a form of doodling. Best of all It is easy to do. It takes no artistic talent so any of us can try it and even like what we end up doing. It costs almost nothing because the only supplies you need are blank paper and a pen. And, it has lots of forms and ways to do it. You can go on Pinterest, YouTube, or even Google it and you can find many ways and suggestions.
Be aware that there are some “official” rules to Zentangle; but, you DO NOT need to follow them. In brief, they go like this:
Sit and relax. Maybe do some type of meditation
Put 4 dots at what would be corners of a square
Partition your “square” with some lines
Start putting little repetitive patterns in the partitioned spaces.
That’s it! Very simple.
Well, as simple as these rules are, you do NOT need to follow them. As you can see in this image of one of my Zentangles, I did not follow the rules. It doesn’t matter because I simply felt a bit better just making the Zentangle.
Here is my strategy. I keep a little book with blank pages and a pen handy. If I am going somewhere that might be stressful, I keep these in my purse. When watching TV or when I find myself sitting around thinking of my loss, I pull out the book and just start doodling. This helps me breathe and relax and helps bring my brain back into focus. It’s a strategy that helps me deal with the grief waves we often feel.
You may find the Zentangling can help you as well. Some research at Harvard suggests that Zentangling can benefit us as we grieve.
You can often find local classes about how to Zentangle. Or, go to YouTube and Pinterest. On line there is a terrific amount of information and ideas for Zentangling.
Try it…. it is not hard, you do not need to be an artist, and you just might feel a little bit better.
Today, August 30, 2017, is National Grief Awareness Day. One might say, Why is there a need for such a day? That would be a great question. In 2013, Angie Cartwright, founded National Grief Awareness Day, dedicated to a day of grief awareness. Any person who has had a loved one die often feels alone in their grief, like nobody understands what they’re going through. Experiencing a death can be overwhelming for anyone, no matter what age they are or beliefs they have. People experiencing grief need support. And the first step in that support is for people to become more aware of what grief-stricken people are going through. We want to bring the myths, clichés, and stigma out of the dark and into the light. National Grief Awareness Day is designed to help us all become more aware of the needs of grieving people and of the comfort they can obtain through the support of others. It’s an opportunity for all of us to raise awareness of the painful impact that the death of a loved one has in the life of a human being. An opportunity for all of us to recognize and support the millions of people grieving across the nation — the thousands grieving right in our own communities, and the grieving individuals we know and see in our daily lives. After a tragic loss, the griever is often lost, alone and misunderstood. National Grief Awareness Day is an opportunity to make sure that all who are grieving receive the support they need. You can support Grief Awareness by signing the petition at https://www.change.org/p/declare-august-30th-national-grief-awareness-day. Hope for Widows Foundation is grateful for you doing this.
Now that you have more clarity on grief and are AWARE of its existence. You may ask yourself hmmm What do I do with this knowledge? Don’t fret, we have your answer. Your awareness must be shared because awareness suffocates in the heart of the holder. It must be released. Simply put, it has to be passed on to be useful. But how do I do that? you may wonder. We’re going to utilize a brief pedagogical method utilizing a Call and Response technique. Are you ready? Let’s go…
As you’re reading this letter, you’re going to stop and say the Call and Response ALOUD and then continue reading. It will help if you say it 3 times so that you remember.
First, now say it with me: GRIEVERS CANNOT BE FIXED THEY CAN ONLY BE HEALED, (say 3 times). Yes, Hope for Widows Community this is #truth. Just think of a child taking her broken doll to her mother to be fixed, perhaps the arm came off. Mom can pop the arm right back on, good as new, FIXED. But grievers, humans, don’t work that way. Brokenness requires HEALING and that takes time, the time-frames are individualized to the person experiencing the grief.
Your next Call and Response is…say it with me now 3x: GRIEVERS NEED A SAFE SPACE TO PLACE THEIR GRIEF. Oftentimes grievers are left with polarizing emotions without an outlet. This may be due to them being in environments where people are uncomfortable with death or just don’t know what to do or say to someone with loss. Please understand that there is nothing you really can say because everything hurts at the point of impact. Just be loving…be kind…be there and listen.
Our final Call and Response is 1…2…3…Lets say it together 3x: GRIEVERS NEED TO BE VALIDATED IN THEIR GRIEF. Huh??? You may say. Simply put, recognizing or affirming that the grievers feelings are worthwhile. Acknowledge the grief, say something like, I’m sorry for your pain, call the griever after the funeral. If you say you’re going to be there ACTUALLY be there. Go visit them, offer to run errands or cook dinner, watch the kids without them having to ask. Be Loving…
So there, Hope for Widows Community, you have a Mini Grief Intervention WRAPPED in a Grief Awareness letter. You weren’t expecting that were you? But guess what else? You read the letter, You completed your Call and Response, So your NEXT response is to SHARE…SHARE…SHARE the information you’ve learned AND this post, so that the masses will be made AWARE and equipped because grievers need us to intercede on their behalf…Thank You.