Friday, November 27, 2009


Facebook | Thelma Zirkelbach

Thanksgiving was a beautiful, clear fall day. The morning felt peaceful. I baked and read The Handmaid's Tale for my book club. Hadn't read it in years but I love it.

Dinner was at my daughter-in-law's sister's house. It was a noisy family gathering with lots of good food and nine (yes, nine) pies. And best of all, it was my granddaughter Gabriella's 11th birthday. She was born on Thanksgiving Day. We went to the hospital soon after her mom went into labor and I thought I would never do this, but I stayed in the room for the birth and had the joy of seeing her whoosh into the world, with a crop of black hair and huge brown eyes.

She was so dear to Ralph. One of his last wishes was to see her one more time. He was on the bone marrow transplant floor at M.D. Anderson Cancer Center and no children are allowed, but his wonderful doctor arranged for him to go downstairs in a wheelchair. It was a sweet but heartbreaking moment to see them together for the last time. When we went back to the floor, he said, "I hope she won't forget me."
I repeated this to Gabriella a year or so after he died, and she said, "How could I forget Popo? I loved him. If I could have one wish, I'd wish for him to come back to you."

Please, please click on the link to Facebook above. You'll see a video of Gabriella singing a song she dedicated to her granddad.

See you in seven.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Thanksgiving 2

Sign I saw at a shopping center today: Do the math. Count your blessings. Hard to do when widowhood is new but worth a try.

And here's a neat way to do that. In Parade Magazine today there was an article by Jonathan Franzen, author of Everything is Illuminated, in which he talked about his childhood Thanksgiving dinners at his grandmother's home. She put a handful of popcorn kernels on everyone's plate. During the meal as each person thought of something he or she was thankful for, they'd take a kernel from their plate and silently put it in the middle of the table. By the end of the meal there'd be a whole pile of popcorn kernels enumerating everyone's blessings.

Today I'm listing two of my standard Thanksgiving dishes:

Strawberry Perfection Salad (Both my sister and I make this every year for our respective dinners)
2 pkgs. strawberry jello dissolved in 1 1/2 cups boiling water
10 oz. pkg. frozen strawberries with juice
3 whipped bananas
1 small can crushed pineapple with juice
1/2 pint sour cream

Mix first 5 ingredients and pour half into mold which has been lightly oiled. Chill until firm. Spread sour cream over this layer, then add cooled remainder of strawberry mixture by spooning over sour cream. Refrigerate 1 1/2 hours.

Spinach Casserole (My daughter's Mom-it's-not-Thanksgiving-without-this dish)
2 pkgs. frozen chopped spinach
1/2 pint sour cream
1 medium can mushrooms
1 can artichoke hearts, sliced

Cook and drain spinach. Add sour cream and mushrooms. Put half of mixture into a buttered casserole. Slice artichoke hearts and put on top. Top with rest of spinach mixture. Bake at 350 for 30 minutes.

Enjoy! And please don't spend the holiday alone!

See you in seven

Monday, November 16, 2009

Stumbling Through the Holidays

Holidays are tough. Thanksgiving is especially hard for me. It was the premier holiday of our year. Although I made sweet potatoes, cranberry sauce, spinach casserole and dessert, Ralph always cooked the turkey and dressing, including his own recipe for jalapeno dressing (which I avoided like the plague). At dinner, everyone would chorus, "This is the best turkey you've eeeverr made," and he would grin like a fool.

Further back, I remember the Thanksgivings of my Austin childhood: big family gatherings, sometimes with soldiers stationed at nearby bases, the Texas-Texas A&M game and the UT Tower glowing orange against the night sky after a Longhorn victory.

I'm fortunate that my children live in town. Now I celebrate Thanksgiving with my daughter-in-law's family. Different home, different table. That makes it easier.

I've kept my husband's message on the answering machine, and at the end of the day I dial our number to hear his voice on a special day. Then I shed a few tears in private.

What else works? Starting a new ritual, inviting friends to dinner who haven't shared past Thanksgivings may help. Or if you can't manage cooking, going out with others who are alone is a good idea (even though restaurant turkey isn't the same as home-cooked). Spending the day volunteering at a facility that feeds the homeless may make you feel needed. If your church or synagogue sponsors a Thanksgiving dinner, go. Make a list of things you're thankful for; you'll surprise yourself that even when you're grieving, there are many things to appreciate--the support of friends, the lovely fall colors, the sound of a child's laughter.

The one thing you probably shouldn't do is be alone. Sharing, even if you're sharing loneliness, really does help.

Monday, November 9, 2009

"To Know the Dark"

The widowsphere is a new world for us, a world we didn't choose. When we enter for the first time, the dark is all around us. We feel as if we're sinking knee-deep in muck. We're lonely, scared, overwhelmed with the tasks that follow a death: probate, death certificates, bank accounts, car titles, social security. I remember bursting into tears at the bank when I was trying to set up a new account. We wonder how we'll get through this. Is this what it's going to be like forever?

But slowly, we see pinpoints of light through the dark: a memory that makes us laugh, a meal that doesn't taste like cardboard, a sunrise that reminds us there's beauty in the world. And step by step, we gather courage. We get through a day, then a month. We find a new interest, a new friend, a way to help others, and we begin to believe with the poet Wendell Berry, "that the dark, too, blooms and sings."

Whether you're a new widow or a veteran like me, you may find the bulletin boards on helpful. There's a thread for everyone, no matter where you are in your journey.

And I hope you'll be back here, too. See you in seven.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Book Therapy for Widows

I'm a big believer in bibliotherapy. Reading about other women facing widowhood has reminded me I'm not alone, touched my heart, given me ideas for dealing with my new life, made me cry and sometimes made me laugh.

Here are some books about the widowhood experience. You can find them online at or

Epilogue: A Memoir by Anne Roiphe
My favorite book on widowshood. We first see Roiphe standing frozen at the front door of her apartment. She has left the door unlocked. Whenever they returned from an evening out, her husband, now gone, opened the door with his key. She isn't sure she can make the key work, hence the unlocked door. She sounds wimpy, doesn't she, but we can all relate to the feeling of helplessness early in our widowhood. The book relates her first year alone, her sometimes hilarious attempts at dating, her uncertainty, confusion and finally strength.

It Must Have Been Moonglow by Phyllis Greene
An engaging read about early widowhood. I loved the chapter entitled "Lefty Loosey, Righty Tighty." It was so Me.

What Remains, A Memoir of Fate, Friendship and Love by Carole Radziwill
Married to Lee Radziwill's son, friend of John Kennedy, Junior and his wife Caroline, Carole Radziwill recounts the loss of her husband to cancer three weeks after the young Kennedys died in a plane crash. Born to a working-class family, she lives a Cinderella story, becoming a television producer at ABC. Her handsome prince is stricken with cancer, her best friends die, and she is left to make sense of what remains. Not the ordinary, middle-class widow's tale, but a fascinating one nonetheless.

Dancing in My Nightgown: The Rhythms of Widowhood by Betty Auchard
Beginning with her husband's death, takes us through her early widowhood and into the world of dating.

The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion
As soon as it was released, this book became an instant bestseller and many see it as the classic on widowhood. I personally didn't like it. I found Didion cold and distant and my perception didn't change after hearing her read from the book. But I do like the beginning:
Life changes fast.
Life changes in an instant.
You sit down to dinner and life as you know it ends.

Have you read these books? Have you found books helpful? Any recommendations?

In weeks to come, we'll talk about other kinds of books, advice to widows, how to books, and others. See you in seven.

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