Dating. 8/21/14

By Karen McCandless

I had a dream the other night, wherein I had a boyfriend. I was glad I had mustered the courage to date and was happily dating a very nice, attractive man. We were hanging out together. Then something happened.

My husband showed up.

I said what every widow would say upon seeing her beloved husband. “What are you doing here? I THOUGHT YOU WERE DEAD!” Awkward. Fortunately, my husband and boyfriend spent the time looking at each other in a rather perplexed manner, without speaking.

Mercifully, I woke up before the inevitable “conversations” occurred. Whew.

Talk about living “My Favorite Wife” or “Move Over, Darling”. Yikes!

What’s with that? What is my subconscious trying to tell me? Am I ready to start dating? Will I ever be ready to start dating? Those of you who have dated, did you “reach a point” where you were comfortable about dating, or did it just happen?

My inquiring subconscious wants to know.

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Overcoming the Darkness After Loss

By Ellen Gerst



“Our lives are like islands in the sea, or like trees in the forest, which co-mingle their roots in the darkness underground.”

-William James-




Darkness always has a place in our lives. It ebbs and flows with the circumstances and experiences we encounter.

Sometimes it is only a disappointment and the world can turn a shade of gray.  However, when we lose a loved one, the world can become black. Our “roots” become exposed; we are rubbed raw. As we move through grief, the darkness becomes sublimated so the light can shine again.

Life is keeping a balance between the light and the dark, and it would be hard to appreciate either without experiencing both.

May a ray of light pierce any darkness you may be experiencing today.



Deja Vu. 8/18/14

By Karen McCandless

This will be a short post as my mind is filled with dying. My mother-in-law (MIL) had a very serious infection, that if it had been untreated for another couple of days, she may have died. The day she left the hospital, my father-in-law (FIL) was admitted. My FIL has had dementia for a number of years and his body has decided it is time for him to leave mortality. He has comfort care while his wife stays in a skilled nursing facility a few miles away from him. It seems surreal. I pictured this time coming and because of my experiences with my husband and mother, I have peace.

I think back how 22 months ago today, my husband had his strokes, leading to his death ten days later. I think of my FIL gradually leaving mortality and whether my husband is there with him. I think of my MIL and wonder how I can help her as she is about to embark on an all-too-familiar-to-me journey.

While in a way it seems deja vu, I know each experience with death is unique. I hope I can be of help.

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Navigating the Storms of Grief

By Ellen Gerst

storm 81514

When you grieve, you are in the eye of the storm – battered about by your up and down emotions. As the initial storm subsides and the sea of your life calms a bit, you tentatively put a foot out to test if you’ve reached solid ground.

However, just as when you get off a boat and it takes a while to get your “land legs” back, so it is with grief. You might be shaky at the beginning as you attempt new tasks and take on the world alone.

Grief is a process that can’t be hurried, no matter how much you just want to be done with it. I suggest that you do your “work” but let it unfold rather than giving yourself a strict timetable for you to feel a certain way.

Loss, and the subsequent act of grieving, is a transformational event in one’s life, and it will change you in ways you don’t even know yet. I like how Haruki Murakami phrases this concept as follows.

“And once the storm is over you won’t remember how you made it through, or how you managed to survive. You won’t even be sure in fact, whether the storm is really over. But one thing is certain, when you come out of the storm you won’t be the same person who walked in.”

Thursday. 8/14/14

By Karen McCandless

You are used to seeing me on Mondays, but Hope for Widows has asked me to start posting on Thursdays as well. This week I want to take a minute and introduce myself to those of you who are new.

First of all, I am sorry you qualify to be here. There is a lot of love and support at and I hope you will use the site as a resource as you move forward.

I have been widowed for about 22 months, he was 53 and I was 48. My husband died suddenly and unexpectedly, leaving me, a stay-at-home mom, with a broken heart, no employment and a need for a new plans in my life. I am not a professional writer or counselor, just a fellow traveler on this journey. You will probably not see advice from me, rather you will see short essays about moving forward as a widow. I may pose questions to you, eager to learn about your experiences. I tend to write from the gut, not organizing and pre-writing my posts. Now that I am going to be writing two days a week, I think I am going to have to organize my gut a bit more.

My life is good and I am happy. I changed careers and love my employment. Grief still comes, but not with the horrible impact it had at first. Yes, there are days when I still can’t believe he is gone.

It is my hope you will have peace and comfort, know you are not alone, and that you are going to be okay.

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Readjusting the Picture of Your Late Spouse

By Ellen Gerst


“The past is never where you think you left it.”

-Katherine Anne Porter-

When a partner passes, it’s human nature to remember only the good things about that person because thinking about anything negative seems as if you would be dishonoring him. However, the truth is that everyone of us is human and, therefore, have human failings.

No one is perfect; no one is a saint. Consequently, one of the steps of widowhood is to readjust the picture of your late spouse. This doesn’t mean forgetting or negating all that was wonderful about him. It’s just drawing a more accurate picture.

Here are just two reasons why it is important to do so.

1. There might have been a certain way the two of you took care of finances, your home, child rearing, etc. Now there is only one of you, and you have to do what feels right for you in your new life. If you continue to put your late spouse on a pedestal and think that “his way” or your old way of doing things were the only and right ways to complete tasks, it makes it virtually impossible for you to feel good about different decisions you are making now. You have to learn to trust yourself without second guessing about the decisions you and your late spouse would have made in the past. Now, you only have the present and the future.

2. If at some point in the future you want to look for love with a new partner, any new person is going to be hard-pressed to compete against a saint or someone who never said or did anything that annoyed you or with whom you always agreed. Although you will always carry the love you feel for your late spouse in your heart, it is not a good relationship technique to always be comparing your late and current partner … with the current partner never quite filling the shoes of your late spouse. In reality, you are a different person now who has been changed by loss. As hard as it might be to admit it to yourself, your late spouse might not be the “perfect” fit for the new you.

Some of you may be having a hard time hearing and digesting the preceding thoughts. Please keep in mind that they are not usually ones incorporated or easily understood at the inception of grief. The process of grief is a slow dawning and acceptance of the infinite changes that have occurred in your life.

Butterfly ©Ellen Gerst


Right now you might compare yourself to a moth who lives in darkness who is spinning her cocoon. However, soon you will be set free to live life as a beautiful butterfly. The harder you work on moving through your grief and addressing the issues in your life, the smoother the transition to butterfly will go.



Take the Sick Day

By Roslyn Geertsen

I am rarely sick. When I feel an illness coming on, I’m impatient, and never want to take the time out of life to rest enough and care for my body so it can deal with the illness before it blooms into something painful and enduring. I tend to just keep going, putting in token efforts to take the remedies, but taking the attitude of “I don’t have time for this. If I don’t keep going, who will do all that needs to be done?”

I did it again. I became ill on vacation, and when I got home I had two days where nothing was planned. Then on the third day, major responsibilities were back on my plate.

I could have taken those two days and stayed in bed. I could have rested while I had no commitments, let my body have all the sleep it was begging for, and started the healing process.

But I listened to the nagging thoughts in my head. “It would be so good to get THIS done…”,  or “You really ought to do THIS…”…and the two days quickly filled to the brim with tasks and I never rested. When the third day arrived, I was feeling worse, and the next two weeks were filled with congestion and coughs that seemed never ending.

Finally, last weekend, I had to give in. This had been going on for weeks, and apparently my body was giving me a message: Slow down! I had taken the grandchildren to a petting farm, and they’d had a wonderful time, but as the morning wore on I felt worse and worse, and before lunch time I knew I was in trouble. I took them home and let their mother feed them while I immediately went to bed. I piled on the blankets (now I was alternating between fever and chills) and fell asleep – and slept for five hours. I awoke long enough to drink some juice, and slept the rest of the evening and through the night.

I’d let it go on long enough I needed medical help, and I saw a doctor the next day. Finally now, after four days, I’m beginning to see improvement. But how much better would I most likely be if I’d taken those two days two weeks ago to take care of this?

When we are the only caregiver for our children, and all the responsibility for everything lies on our shoulders, we can think we don’t have time to take care of ourselves. Let this be a reminder that you’re much wiser to, as soon as possible, force yourself to carve out the necessary time to let yourself get better – BEFORE it turns into something much worse.

So if you’re coming down with something, call in reinforcements to help with children, job, and other responsibilities; do whatever you can to clear the calendar – and Take the Sick Day!

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Waters. 8/11/14

By Karen McCandless

I hiked Zion Narrows last week with my daughter and a group of friends. If you aren’t familiar with the hike, one literally hikes in the river for 60-70% of the time, depending on water levels. We hiked from the bottom up, going several miles up the canyon. The weather was perfect with no flash flood possibility and moderate temperatures. There were hundreds and hundreds of people in the Narrows that day, picking their way up through the river to see the towering sandstone walls and beautiful effects of light and shadow. We all looked like ants in the huge landscape-creeping and clamoring around trying to find the best way up the river.

My husband taught me how to read rivers while teaching me to fly fish (teaching a spouse to fly fish is a story for another time). I knew where the deep holes would be, I knew where the fish would be, if there were any in the river. Fish do not sit in the low, fast water and choose to stay in deep water just below rocks where little energy is used to eat passing food. I noticed many people would hike on the shallow, slippery, rocky parts of the river, places where the bottom was visible and the water was low, loud and fast. I suppose it is because it is easy to see one’s feet in the shallow water as opposed to the deeper spots. Seeing one’s feet created a comfort level that sometimes led to falling.

We chose to hike and cross the river where we could not see the bottom. The rocks were less slippery, the water was still and the path less traveled. We only walked into a deep hole once, but that was okay. I thought the trip was more enjoyable taking the chance on the still waters and unseen rocks.

Life can be like the river and we have to choose to tread through what we can see, even if it may not be as safe, or choose to walk in deeper waters. It is a leap of faith to walk in those deep waters, taking chances and making changes where we cannot see obstacles and outcomes as clearly. Many times, though, those deep water walks of faith give us the stillness we seek.

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A is for Awkward

By Ellen Gerst

awkwardAccording to Webster, the definition of awkward is lacking dexterity, ease or grace

Throughout the grief process you can feel uneasy or removed from your body – almost as if your skin doesn’t fit correctly.

Consider thinking about it as follows. Shortly after your loss, you can compare your life to a movie where you’re an observer of the film rather than a participant. You’re not quite ready to step back into the action, so you sit on the sidelines until you are able to take charge of your pain vs. the pain being in charge of you.

As you prepare to reengage with life, you may try on different “skins” or personas. At times, this may feel awkward until you become used to the new roles you are assuming. This is all part of figuring out the “new single you.”

Here’s my suggestion on how to view and move through this awkward phase.

As you come to accept your circumstances, you’ll begin to realize that it’s virtually impossible for you to be the same person you were before your great loss. However, it may take some time for you to recognize how much you have changed and to make the appropriate adjustments to the picture you hold of yourself. Feedback from others can help you to “see” the new you who is emerging. With this information, work towards finding the place in your life where you can feel comfortable in your skin again.

The preceding is an excerpt from my book, “Understanding Grief From A to Z,” in which I present an alphabet soup of emotions that mourners may experience in response to the loss of their loved one. After each emotion is described, the reader is given an actionable suggestion on how to develop a change in perspective that can help her move from the darkness of grief to the light of renewal.



To Be or Not To Be? That is the Question

By Ellen Gerst

To paraphrase William Shakespeare’s words in Hamlet: To be normal or not to be normal? That is the question.

After experiencing huge changes in your life, a popular buzz word you may hear that is used to try to help you to understand your new life circumstances is “new normal.”

I believe to understand the new normal, you must first understand normal. However, let me ask you, “Who and what is considered normal these days?” I don’t think we can rely on Webster to define normal anymore. The dictionary says it is something that is usual, customary or ordinary.

You only need to look at Mother Nature to see the reflection of the absence of what is considered normal today. Think about how many times in the last few years that you’ve heard the weather forecasters say that we are experiencing unseasonably (read: abnormal) warm or cool weather. I know that one year I visited my sister in the northeast in January, and it was 60 degrees, and back home (in the southwest) it was in the thirties! You could categorize these new weather patterns that seem to be changing from year to year a new normal.

The truth is that normal is always in flux and, therefore, every day can be considered a new normal.

John Henry Newman said that “growth is the only evidence of life.” Consequently, every day as you learn new things, you adjust your normal. This is especially evident if you have small children. They grow and change at such a rapid pace that every day is certainly a new normal for them, and this keeps them in a constant state of awe. And, as they change, you must also change how you respond to them.

Accepting every day as an opportunity to greet a new normal can make your life more rewarding. In fact, it can allow you to recapture the awe you experienced as a child, if you let yourself get excited about the new opportunities that lie in front of you.

It can also afford you the ability to take giant leaps toward your goals. By disdaining complacency (which you can do by regarding yourself as a work-in-progress or a person who is willing to make changes when new information is received and processed), you can escape what Albert Einstein defined as a state of insanity – which is doing the same thing repeatedly and expecting different results.

If life can be compared to a racing river – fluid and ever-changing – then complacency can be compared to a murky swamp that keeps you mired in one place.




Avoid stagnating in this swamp, which is a dark and negative place. Instead, ride the cycle of life where each new experience encountered is a state of new normal. Once adjustments are made, it simply becomes the norm. In actuality, if you are moving forward in life, it is simply a never ending cascade of a new normal becoming normal.

Release your uneasiness over greeting the many “new normals” to come. It is life in all its glory, and your previous experiences have been preparing you for success.


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