grief journey

Every morning I read a list of fifty things I have to be thankful for. I started doing this a few months ago; it was something my grief therapist suggested to help me get through the uncertainty and loneliness of life during the pandemic. Yes, I am still seeing a grief counselor, although, at this point, it’s not to help me process grief as much as it’s life coaching. She’s helping me create a fulfilling life as a single woman and overcome a lifetime of self-doubt and other issues, and it’s also fine having her around during this life-altering pandemic.

At any rate, the “50 things” list is the first thing I read before work every morning. It sets my compass for the day. The list is a viable reminder that I have it pretty good, despite being alone during these precarious times – when I really miss having someone to share my life with. Okay, honestly, not just “someone.” I’d much prefer to be here with my husband who died what seems like a long, long time ago.

At any rate, the “50 things” list was a great idea. It’s a reminder of all the blessings in my life, and it’s a really positive way to start out the day. Each item on my list illustrates how lucky I am: fortunate to have so many loved ones and to be in such a safe, calm, and stable position when it could be much, much worse.

The list includes a variety of people who are important to me, and it includes small, more materialistic things, comforts, and privileges that I never before appreciated as much as I do now.

#10 – Having a comfortable, warm home to live in
#13 – Being able to work from home and have no financial loss
#16 – Having access to the internet so I can still meet with friends online
#23 – Having immediate online access to libraries and bookstores, so I can read any book from any time in history and by any author
#24 – The same goes for music – it’s at my fingertips through Amazon Music
#48 – Having choices and being able to make new goals for my future

I didn’t write the list in any order. The family and friends are at the top, because they’re definitely the most important thing in my life, so I naturally thought of them first. But, after that, I just spitballed it as things occurred to me.

Over the past months, I’ve added some things, or updated some – like “being able to get vaccinated, possibly by May” has this after it in parentheses: “I’ve had one shot! One more and this will almost be over!” I’ve also added a note as each person I care about gets vaccinated because that’s one fewer loved one to worry about (in terms of the virus, anyway).

But one thing that stands out actually popped into my head randomly as I created the list. And I knew right away how important it was. It’s one thing that I MUST be thankful for:

#43 – Having survived the grief and the pain of widowhood

That item is nothing to take lightly. I never thought it would happen. If anyone would have told newly widowed me in late 2017 that I would ever “get over” the grief, that I would ever be able to get up in the morning and not work to shove that pain down and get motivated, I wouldn’t have believed them.

It was a full-time job – ignoring, hiding, and experiencing that grief. Rick and the pain of losing him was a constant condition. It was always there, and I was always plagued with deciding how to cope with it at any particular moment. If I was with others who I felt close to and safe enough to show emotion, I talked about a memory of him, let myself feel the sadness or cry, and they understood. If I was at a public event, I controlled the tears and the thoughts as long as possible before retreating to my car or the nearest restroom stall for a few minutes where I could release the pent up emotions and then return to the crowd wearing my “public stoic face.”

If I was home, I either stayed in bed a few hours longer, or I sat staring at the place he used to sit beside me. I lost a lot of time back then when I was in that fog of grief. Hours would pass unnoticed while I stared at photos, cried, or ruminated over memories.

I learned so many coping skills in those first months and years: journal writing, talking to my therapist, relying on friends, reading others’ grief experiences, writing goals and lists of things I had to look forward to, going through Rick’s things and touching, smelling, and remembering him by holding onto his favorite hat or t-shirt.

It was all about coping and healing – all the time.

And now it’s not.

I have survived the grief and the pain of widowhood and I am very aware that that’s something I have to be thankful for.

Which is not to say the pain never comes back. It does. And usually when I least expect it. But, still, I’ve survived the storm that used to rage inside me and the awful sadness that enveloped me for a long, long time. Survival came at a price. I will never be the same. But I’ve also learned to appreciate what I have, and to live in the moment. I will also never stop remembering him and loving him. And writing this has given me an idea for a truly important thing to add to my thankful list…

#51 – Having had the incredible good fortune to love and be loved by Rick.


On August 13, 2017, I lost the love of my life. Rick Palmer and I celebrated our 20th wedding anniversary one month before he died at age 63 of complications from treatments for small cell lung cancer. He was my partner and soulmate, the love I had been looking for and finally found at age 40.

Rick was a talented writer and web designer and, in 2002, we began our own web and print design business. We worked together building the business and enjoyed traveling, writing, and playing together. Our dream was to spend our golden years together doing more of the same, but in the ten months from diagnosis to death, that dream shattered.

After Rick’s death, I quickly realized that the enormity of his loss was too much for me to handle on my own, so I began grief therapy. I also began writing through my grief in a journal of feelings, thoughts, memories, and poetry. As I navigate my new life alone, I share my journey and my efforts towards creating my “new normal” on my personal blog: The Writing Widow. I’m also on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook.

I recently published two books about my grief journey: my poetry book, I Wanted to Grow Old With You: A Widow's First Year of Grief in Poetry, and compilation of my blog posts A Widow's Words: Grief, Reflection, Prose, and Poetry - The First Year." Both books are available in print and Kindle versions on