Lately I have struggled to live in the present moment.  I am working on practicing mindfulness, which is defined as a state of deliberate attention on the present.  Experts say ‘living in the now’ is important in order to heal fully from grief.  Mindfulness involves not allowing your thoughts to control you but merely observing them and letting the thoughts go.

The Past

Ruminating on the past still can cause me great sadness.  My house has many, many memories of hundreds of family moments.  My memories are almost all happy ones.  However, my memories can create thoughts that cause me to go back to the past and sort of just float there.

It is rather difficult to fully live in the present when 2 decades of my life took place in my house.  Since the pandemic hit, I have taken on the monumental task of going through all our belongings and either boxing them to save, throwing them away, or donating them. Going through all our belongings has been quite difficult.  So many of our things, mine and my daughters have memories attached to them when John was alive.  Clearing out the house has caused me far more emotional turmoil than I ever could have imagined.


Going through all my daughter’s old toys was even difficult because it is another ‘loss’ for me.  The loss of my little girl’s childhood.  My daughter told me recently that she felt like her childhood was cut short the day her father died.  The light in her eyes before her father died has still not returned.  Her father’s death changed her.  I am still angry about the unfairness of what she has had to go through.

Going through my house has been a good exercise in taking stock of what I own.  The most difficult tasks have been removing his things.  The removal of his things has come with a load of guilt for me.  I am not sure why because it is not like he is here hating my new lamp, or picture, but it feels like removing his items is a betrayal.

Moving Forward

Only recently did I go through all of John’s clothes and shoes and other items.  My daughter did not want me to donate or get rid of anything of his.  I knew this task would be painful and was avoiding it, so I put his clothes and shoes into containers for my daughter to save.  There was a LOT of crying while looking at his clothes because I was easily picturing him wearing his favorite shirts.

I don’t think there is a right time to go through all your spouse’s or loved one’s things, but it is awful on a level that I cannot even put into words.  Afterwards, I did feel a LOT lighter though, like I had made peace with some of the last things I have had to do as a surviving spouse.  Going through John’s things is just one of dozens of unpleasant and painful tasks.

The Present

The practice of mindfulness avoids thinking too far into the future.  I like thinking about the future and am looking forward to starting a new life with my fiancé.  I have great hope for the future.

So, back to the present.  I am trying each day to wake up and live in the moment.  Breathing in and out and reminding myself to stop and appreciate what is around me.  I find that I notice small things now like all the types of trees in my neighborhood.  The trees were always there, but I guess I was too distracted to notice them.  Being in the moment sounds so simple, but it can take a lot of concentration to not let your mind slip into the past or future.


Northern Virginia has been Jennifer Carstens’ home since she was a teenager. She met John when she was working at the D.E.A. Headquarters in Arlington, VA, during the summer when she was in college. Honestly, it was love at first sight for both of them. He had a way about him that made her feel like everything was going to be okay. They were married 4 years later and lived happily for the next 21 years. While their lives were not
flawless, they were close to perfection. Their daughter had just turned 16 when tragedy struck on March
11, 2017. John was healthy and happy, but suffered a massive brain stem hemorrhagic stroke. Much to
their horror, he slipped into a coma, and would never wake again. He was 49-years young. Their daughter
is now 18 and they are still piecing together their ‘new normal.

Jennifer believes he would be proud of the ways they are moving forward. They continue to seek peace and healing through humor, love, and sometimes tears.