Thursday, September 30, 2010

Drawing for Free Book: The Five Ways We Grieve

The Five Ways We Grieve: Finding Your Personal Path to Healing after the Loss of a Loved One by Susan A. Berger, Trumpeter Books, 2009

I’ve probably read most of the grief books out there. This was the most inspiring, most comprehensive one I’ve found. So many books give you pat advice: It’s okay to cry; Rely on a support group; Give yourself time: Blah, blah, blah. This book is different.

Susan Berger acknowledges that grief is complex, that a loss means your life will never be the same, that grieving isn’t “over” in a year or two but may last a lifetime in some form or another. She identifies five ways in which people respond to loss.

1.Nomads, who have not resolved their grief;
2.Memorialists, who work to preserve the memory of the person who died;
3.Normalizers, who attempt to re-create a sense of family, community, or previous lifestyle;
4.Activists, who work at helping others facing similar diseases or issues that caused the death of the loved one;
5.Seekers, who create meaning through religious, spiritual, or philosophical beliefs.

For each of these identity types, she discusses strengths and weaknesses as well as ideas to consider.

Which type you become depends on your sense of your own mortality, your sense of time and orientation to time, your values and priorities, and your relationship to the world. She says, “I believe that, after experiencing the death of a loved one, our ideas and perceptions about these complex concepts change. As a result, we form a new identity, a revised sense of self, that contributes to how we see the world and live our lives.”

This book is deep, thought-provoking, and optimistic. It’s well worth reading, reflecting upon, and reading again.

Susan Berger's website: http//


Monday, September 27, 2010

Quote for the Week: September on the Avenue

Lights dreaming,
Fading lights
At my feet are falling.
Soft shadows,
Failing shadows
Stroke my path….
Among the bare branches
A light wind
And ceases….
And a last leaf
Flutters down, trembling.
A moment more…
And stillness
Rabbi Shalom Ben Gabriel

Interview with Brenda Lee Boitson, Widow since 2008

Tell us about your background as a widow.
> My husband I were married in February 2007. In June 2008, Kevin started developing a sore throat, and the pain quickly increased. By August he was on life support at Johns Hopkins. He was diagnosed with a rare Angiosarcoma tumor of his esophagus and stomach. October 2008 he succumbed the disease, and life quickly changed for me. I was 24 at the time, he was 36 when he passed. We had moved back in with my parents when he first became ill, as we both had to quit our jobs: him because of his illness, and me to become his fulltime caretaker. I stayed living with my parents for several months, and did not go back to work until January. It gave me time to take some trips and really decide how I wanted to restart round two of my life.
> Being widowed so young with children to take care of must be especially
> hard. How have you managed?
> We did not have any children. When he became ill, I kept praying I would find out I was pregnant, and then when we found out his chemotherapy treatment would take any chances of us having children, I was devastated. Since his passing, I have learned to be grateful for not having that opportunity, as I have seen so many other widows struggle with the single motherhood role.
> What has been the hardest for you?
> The most difficult thing for me has been not being able to talk to Kevin. We talked about everything and had great lines of communication. He was my best friend, my confidante, my lover. We were perfect counterparts for one another, and not being able to pick up the phone to chat, or send him a loving text, or just to hear his voice has been one of the biggest losses. At this point, nearly two years out, I would love to have him back on earth not even as my husband, but just to know that he is here and available to listen to me. If that meant I could get him back, I would take it.
> What gets you through the day?
> The love he had for me. He loved me, as I did him, more intensely than I ever imagined "true love" to be. We met online, and struggled through a 2000 mile long distance relationship. Ultimately we had to go through immigration to get married (He was Canadian, I am American), and we cherished our time together. It was nothing short of divinity that brought us together from such unique circumstances. I am empowered by the love he taught me. I now continue to work towards Grief & Sarcoma Awareness so that other people can face this journey with more resources than what I had.
> Where are you in your journey through grief?
> I am nearly two years out, and I am in a new relationship. I met a great man at a Haiti benefit fundraiser about 6 months ago, and we have been together ever since. I did not believe that I would ever find a love as intense as what Kevin and I had, but this love is different. It is of its' own, as all love stories are. I still talk to Kevin often in my thoughts, visit his grave, and continue to mourn his loss. It strikes me down at surprising moments, unlike before, when it hit often and hard. Now it is mostly subtle, with painful reminders that help me to reflect upon the great life that I had. But now I know that round two can be just as fruitful, and that now I am equipped with many more tools to bring to life's hardships.
> What resources have you found to help?
> Online forums, Hospice support groups, and getting involved in starting a local Team Sarcoma event have all helped me. Finding other young widows has been the most difficult. Being a widow in my 20's puts me in a very "unrelatable" group. I have had to adjust to the groups who are often twice my age, understanding that what it comes down to it, we all have experienced this horrific loss, we all will go through similar emotions, but all in very different ways.
> How has widowhood changed you?
> I am much more sympathetic to those going through difficult situations. I feel like cancer has continually touched my life, and I am more in tune to those battling this disease, and those who have lost loved ones to this disease. I have become an advocate for change in how we discuss grief, hoping that we get away from the "I'm sorry"s and "I understand" cliched responses, and move forward with being real to people in their grief.
> Tell us about your blogging experience. What inspired you to start
> blogging? Who follows your blog-mostly young widows? Others?
> I began blogging when Kevin first became ill to help me make sure all of our friends and family were getting the correct information on what was happening. Before this, I had read http;// and that really gave me the backbone to start a medical related blog. I have since continued to blog about my journey through widowhood. Surprisingly, the general public, versus widows, reads my blog. Everyone in some way can relate to grief; whether through the loss of a dream, the loss of a person, or just experiencing a depressing time. The symptoms of grief are much like the symptoms anyone experiences in any type of hardship of life.
> One piece of advice you'd give to widows of any age.
> Don't stop. Keep moving, even if it's "wrong" in society's eyes, even if everyone questions you. You can only do what you are equipped to handle, and in widowhood that means a carte blanche to be able to do what you want. Take advantage of these moments to start over, and allow yourself time to feel everything when it comes to you. Don't push it away.

Note: Brenda blogs at

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Widowhood: A Puzzle

I heard a speaker at a conference today who made me think about widowhood in a new way. He said life is like a puzzle. Until the end of life, we’re all unfinished puzzles. How are we going to put the pieces together?

After we lose someone we love, the pieces will never fit together in the same way again. A piece we used to have will forever be missing. So we have to find a way to reassemble the parts that are left.

Some of us begin looking for a piece to replace the one that’s gone by entering a new relationship. It won’t be the same as the one that’s gone, but for some, it may be a good fit. Others don’t even want to think of replacing that empty space, but they still must struggle to build a life around that hole. How? I met a widow recently who fills her life with activity—day trips, bridge games, lunches—yet though they fill her time, they don’t seem to heal the emptiness. Another widow I know stays at home, unable to push herself back into the world. She’s unhappy about it but she can’t make that leap into single life, at least not yet. Others accept that life won’t be the same but rearrange the pieces of their puzzle to make the best of it. Who else is part of each widow’s picture? Children? Aging parents? Friends? Other family members? Are they supportive or unsupportive? Do they add responsibilities or make life easier? That, too, will influence the way a widow shuffles the puzzle pieces to come up with a new design.

I wonder what each of you has done with your unfinished puzzle. And what does your puzzle depict? A lone tree with bare branches? A butterfly slowly emerging from a cocoon? A garden beginning to bloom? An empty house? I think mine is a turtle peeking out of its shell and creeping forward.

May all of us keep working at our puzzles until the final moment, when the design is complete.

Comments are always welcome, so please leave one.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Book of the Week: My #1 is Still My #1

My #1 is Still My #1 by Bernice Bright Dickey, Xulon Press, 2010 (Available from Amazon)

On January 31, 2002, Bernice Dickey watched the local evening news as she waited for her husband and two daughters to come home for dinner. Hearing a report of a car-train collision, she prayed for the victims, a man, a young girl and a toddler. Only too soon did she discover that the family she was praying for was her own.

Dickey takes the reader with her on her widow's journey through a year-long series of conversations with God. Although the details are her own, the steps of the journey are familiar to all of us who have lost a spouse and/or a child--shock, numbness, disbelief, fear. We see her move toward acceptance, then backslide, and move on again, bolstered by her strong faith and the support of friends. Sole caretaker of her toddler, who survived the crash, she struggles with exhaustion as she combines work with mothering, deals with unresolved issues between her and her husband, and surmounts difficulties with the church where he was a minister. She grieves that she never got to say goodbye to her loved ones. Birthdays, holidays and anniversaries are painful. She even has the misfortune to witness a similar accident to the one that killed the husband and child some months afterward. Yet we see her soldiering on and finding a meaninful life and we are inspired by her courage.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Quote for the Week

Late Fragment by Raymond Carver

And did you get what

you wanted from this life, even so?

I did.

And what did you want?

To call myself beloved, to feel myself

beloved on the earth.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Book of the Week: Dying Was the Best Thing That Ever Happened to Me

Author: William E. Hablitzel, M.D.
Publisher: Sunshine Ridge Publishing, 2006

Dr. Hablitzel, a primary care physician, writes a compelling book about his encounters with dying patients and what he learned from them. From Alex, who suffered a cardiac arrest at the entrance to the ER; to Karl, a workaholic whose disease taught him the value of stopping to smell the roses; to Erin, a nurse whose concern for others brightened their and her own final days, his stories touch the heart.

A reviewer of this book on Amazon remarked that this author "cherry-picked" the patients whose stories he recounted and that many elderly people are depressed and lonely. Well, of course, he hand-picked them. How inspiring would it be to read about people who died miserably? Certainly not all patients, in fact, probably only a small percentage, are like the people he writes about, but they are the role models we hope to emulate when it's our turn.

We have all lost those we love, but these stories remind us that death can be faced with courage, that we can learn from the way our loved ones made that journey. I found this a worthwhile addition to any widow's library.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Quote for the Week

“And remember that the companionship of time is but of short duration. It flies more quickly than the shades of evening. We are like a child that grasps in his hand a sunbeam. He opens his hand soon again, but to his amazement, finds it empty and the brightness gone.”

This is a quote I return to again and again. It reminds me how brief a time I had with Ralph and how short is the time still left to me. It reminds me to cherish every moment, even the lonely ones, because they're over in an instant and you can't get them back.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

The Book of Life/The Book of Death

It's September, and even along the Texas Gulf Coast, we can feel just the tiniest hint of fall, a faint cool breeze in the morning when you get the newspaper, the sound of The Eyes of Texas and the color of burnt orange in the stands at UT football games, school buses rumbling by with the morning traffic. When the year turns, it's a time for reflection.

If you're Jewish, these are the Days of Awe, the time from the Jewish New Year until the end of the Day of Atonement. Tradition has it that during this time each and every soul passes before God and he inscribes it in one of two books: the Book of Life or the Book of Death. In 2004 my husband was inscribed in the Book of Death.

When we left the service on the Eve of the Day of Atonement, he complained of a sore throat. It was the first sign that something was wrong; a month later he was diagnosed with acute myelogenous leukemia. He died a year later, just a few days after the next Day of Atonement.

This time of the year is hard for me. Although I celebrate the holidays with my children, we belong to different congregations so I go to services alone and think of that innocuous sore throat that sent Ralph on a journey from which he would never return.

Wednesday evening was the beginning of the new year (Jewish holidays always begin at sundown the day before.) I was nervous all day. Should I skip the service that evening or go? Either way, I might feel bad. I was edgy with the children I worked with that afternoon, still uncertain about what to do. Maybe it would rain and that would give me an out. (We'd been getting showers from Hermine, which had made landfall in the Valley) No such luck.

What I mind is walking alone from my car to the synagogue. People are always TOGETHER. But I went. I put myself in an imaginary bubble, where nothing could bother me. Once inside, once the service began, the familiar prayers, the rabbi's soothing voice, the music I'd heard since my childhood filled me with a sense of peace. I felt comforted, I was glad I'd come and especially happy to run into families whose children I once worked with. "You taught my daughter to talk, and now I can't get her to be quiet;" "My son graduated from college with honors and his pronunciation is perfect."

During this time, we are supposed to forgive and seek forgiveness, to reflect on ours lives, and to resolve to be a better person in the coming year. We have a new start, a chance to be better, to be grateful for what we have, even though we've also lost. If you're not Jewish, it's still a good time to do this as the year winds down. Autumn reminds us that time is short; we have to make the most of what we have left.

Happy New Year and Happy September to all.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Quote for the Week: A Poem


In keeping with this week's cat theme, here is a poem from my cats' favorite book, Poetry for Cats, with poems by cats of famous authors. The one below, To a Vase, is by Elizabeth Barrett Browning's cat. Enjoy, and if you have a cat that likes poetry, please share with him/her.

To a Vase

How do I break thee? Let me count the ways.
I break thee if thou art at any height
My paw can reach when, smarting from some slight,
I sulk, or have one of my crazy days.
I break thee with an accidental graze
Or swish of tail, if I should take a fright.
I break the out of pure and simple spite
The way I broke the jar of mayonnaise.
I break thee if a bug upon thee sits.
I break thee if I’m in a playful mood,
And then I wrestle with the shiny bits.
I break thee if I do not like my food.
And if someone thy shards together fits,
I’ll break thee once again when thou art glued.

Friday, September 3, 2010

I'm Not Blogging About My Cats...Okay, I Am.

I just read one of those "tips for bloggers" articles. One of the 56 tips was, "Never blog about your cat." Does this apply to me? Of course not. I don't have a cat; I have catS. Two of them. That's Toby on the left, Tiki on the right.

Toby is my cat; Tiki was Ralph's. Toby is still my favorite. (Sorry, Tiki. Don't read this.) When my daughter brought Toby for a trial visit, I thought I didn't want a new cat. She said, "Give him a week's trial." He got ouf of the carrier, walked straight to me and climbed into my lap. He had me from "meow."

Ralph picked Tiki out at a pet adoption center. When we brought her home, she hid in the fireplace for three days, then marched out and took over.

These two are great together. Every night around nine they jump in and out of the bathtub and chase each other around the house. Toby loves everyone. Last week he pattered after the Comcast guy and kept patting him on the arm. He befriends every kid who comes to the house for therapy. I have to keep him locked in the bedroom or he'd be on my therapy table wanting to join in.

Now for the serious stuff. I chose to blog about the cats because I believe they've been instrumental in helping me get through these first five years of widowhood. They are great company; they are always at the door to greet me when I come home; they are a presence in the house, someone to talk to. They are warm and cuddly, and we all know how you crave touch when you're lonely.

I truly recommend a pet to journey with you as you walk through the Widowsphere. Doesn't matter if it's a cat or a dog or even a guinea pig. (We once had a guinea pig that liked to follow me around the house.) Pets force you out of your shell because you must take care of them. Even a trip to the vet gets you out in the world. If you're walking your dog, people you meet always seem friendlier. Want to start socializing again? Head for the dog park or any park and your dog will attract others. It's easy to start a conversation. Most of all, on dark nights when you're sure you'll never make it through, your pet gives you courage and unending love.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Book of the Week

The Phoenix Phenomenon: Rising from the Ashes of Grief by Joanne T. Jozefowski

I've decided to post books I've read that other widows might find helpful...or some just for fun.

This was highly recommended. The writing wasn't very personable; it sounded almost academic. On the other hand, the "fables" included about grievers were a bit cutesy.
That said, there was some good material dealing with what the author calls the stages of grief. They aren't the same as Elizabeth Kubler-Ross's stages but focus more on moving through grief to transformation. She focuses on those she calls Phoenix Grievers, who create a new life from the ashes of grief. I was especially interested in this because not long before he died, Ralph said to me, "You'll be all right. You'll do something good."

Her final chapter lists the "gifts" of grief, which I suppose many of us haven't thought about. She also includes a chapter on the grief our nation felt on 9/11.

Here's a quote she uses from Dean Koontz: "We need only choose by the way we live to celebrate those who loved us and who were loved."

Check out Amazon for some used copies for as little as 25 cents.

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