Relentless Replay

Loss is powerful. Whether the loss is the loss of a lifestyle. Or maybe it is a spouse or a child or an aunt or a grandfather. It could be the loss of the family pet. Perhaps you are mourning the loss of a close friendship. You could even be mourning the loss of your health as you face a medical crisis. These are just some examples, the list is expansive.

All loss is different, even if it is the same type of loss, and they aren’t comparable. Many people lose their grandparents. None of our experiences are the same because my grandparents were different and I am different. Even two people who die from Alzheimer’s are not the same and their families loss is not the same. No other widow shares my exact experience either.

Even so, loss is a great equalizer. We all hurt when we lose something or someone precious. No person’s loss is greater or less relevant that someone else’s. In that sense, loss is the same–it hurts. 

It’s also true that while our experiences with grief are different, there are parts of grief, regardless of who you are or what you’ve lost, that are the same. For example, people who are grieving, tend to be rather disorganized and forgetful. This can make people feel almost crazy. Rest assured, you aren’t crazy (there is one thing you don’t have to worry about)–in fact, you are quite normal.

It is hard to do everything you need to do in order to tie up loose ends as well as remember to help kids with homework or drive the correct route home from work (we have all done it) and buy groceries. Which is probably why so many of us grieving are typically rather exhausted! There is an emotional and mental stress far more powerful than any set of exercises at depleting energy. And, a little nap probably won’t do much good. Be patient; keep working at keeping up with the routine. As you heal you will get there.

That brings us to another piece of grieving–lack of motivation. Chances are things that normally would have sent you rolling in the aisle laughing, now leaves you with only a little smirk. Or special nights out used to make you giddy with excitement now make you want to climb back in bed and just forget about it. Once again, it is normal. Keep fighting the urge. Where the smile anyway, try to get out even when you don’t feel like it. Staying inside and wrapping yourself in grief can be (ironically) comforting and facing the world very uncomfortable. If you don’t slowly start to face the world, it might turn into a habit that could be more life altering than your grief. It can take you to inwardly sad state quickly and it’s hard to turn it around.

I can deal with all of those things. The one characteristic that gets me the most is the relentless replay in my brain. This memory and that memory. Sadness and happiness. It is really hard to stay on task or sleep when your brain constantly heads back to the good times before your life fell apart.

Just like a broken record, here it comes again. It interrupts your thoughts, your music, and even dominates your conversations. It fills the space meant for dreaming. There is no escaping it. Every time it creeps in, unwelcome, and the tears flow. It’s hard to sleep through tears. It’s hard to focus through the haze of memories. It’s hard to feel rested when images constantly run through your head.

No surprises here, with these things going on, people who are grieving can be rather quick to lash out. A once patient person suddenly loses all desire to baby someone else when their own life is crumbling. Comments that never would have given you a second thought before are suddenly fighting words. Sound familiar? Yeah, me too.

These things are challenges that nearly all of us grieving feel. You may feel some or all of these. You might be feeling them but had no idea what was going on. Now that you are aware, you can take some steps.

Be patient with yourself and with others. If this is hard for you, imagine how hard it is for people watching you. See, for them, their lives have gone back to normal and all fairness, you look normal. So, when others see these characteristics of grief shining bright, they really might think you have just turned into the meanest person on earth or a sudden air- head. Grieving being what it is, you have zero desire to baby them along and open your sadness to share with the world. I understand, oh boy do I understand. And, maybe you don’t have to do all of that. Maybe you just say, “I am still struggling, I might need some time to adjust.” and leave it at that.

Here is a big one that is oh so hard to do–rest. Get yourself on a regular schedule. At night you lay awake because you can’t sleep and there is not time for naps because of kids or work and you are so tired, but when it’s time to lay down at night all you can think about is what you should have done and how things used to be…the list is endless. Try to set a regular schedule and stick to it. Even when you don’t feel like you have had enough sleep, don’t hit the snooze, get up and get moving. It will make going to sleep at night much easier. If you feel like taking a nap, talk yourself into a relaxing walk instead.

Go the gym. It feels great to run your tail off or slam a punching bag. It helps you sleep, empties some anger, and the bonus of a stronger tougher you will emerge. Believe me when I say, you won’t regret it.

Lastly, and maybe the most important, seek outside support. Find a support group or find a counselor to talk to, or both.  Be honest. If someone asks how you are doing, don’t feel obligated to give the ‘good’ or ‘doing okay’ answer. If you are having a crappy day, say it, maybe you need to just get it out. Things are so much heavier if you carry the load alone. If you share it and allow someone else to carry part of the burden, you will be surprised how much easier the rest of the day or week can be.

All of this is from either my own experience or watching others along the way. I am not an expert. It doesn’t mean everyone falls into this box or follows a certain pattern, but it gives you a great place to start. Accept where you are and work on ending the relentless replay. This grief will creep in every now and again probably forever, but it won’t be in the front of your mind day in and day out and you will be able to live again. It will feel so good!



Good Grief

We, as people, have this driving need to make everything okay. When things are okay (normal routine of life) we are comfortable. However, when something goes upside down and inside out, we feel it, and we struggle. We want to make it better. The only thing harder than pushing through our own tragedies is watching someone we care about face their own challenges.

Getting to the other side isn’t easy. It hurts like hell. We feel alone. We feel lost, unable to choose a direction that might lead us on the correct path. Some of us pray. Some of us keep a brave face and hide our grief, going about our daily lives as if not much has changed. Some of us growl. Some of us go silent–us silent ones, we cause the most gossip and schemes to ‘fix’ us.

When we pray, our supporters feel better because we are reaching out to a higher power. We we go about our normal days, we seem good to the outside world. We look like we are on the right track– even though inside we are tied in knots. When we growl, people might take a step back, yet there is comfort in knowing we have some fight left in us. But those that go silent worry our family and friends the most.

Depression. That’s what swirls around the minds of those looking in. We must have depression. Sometimes, they are absolutely correct and it is important to know the signs of depression ( Other times, we just need space. I tend to be one of the silent.

Here is the truth about me (and many others like me):

I am a talker by nature. I love words (just ask my husband). Usually my words are day-to-day stuff or concern for others. I want to know about you and how you are. I want to hear all the funny things your toddler did and how impossible work was this week. When I am struggling or working through an issue I am often silent.

For people who love me, this sets off the alarms. In part, panic ensues because I am the rock for many and when my foundation shakes, it rattles those who depend on me to hold them up. Those same people care what happen to me and it concerns them when I change so suddenly. Rest assured, I am okay. I won’t crumble anytime soon–this rock may roll a bit, but at the end of the day, it is steady. I don’t walk around asking for help–believe me, when I say, I know when I need help and am not afraid to ask for it when I need to.

My silence is necessary–for me. Know that I may not return your call. I might ‘forget’ a lunch date or I might genuinely forget an appointment. I probably won’t cook and clean like I should–and I might not make it to the store to buy groceries so someone else can do it. I probably will miss paying a bill. I’ll nap more than I should and I will end nearly every night with time alone in a hot bath. For me, that isn’t depression, it’s coping.

In times of trouble, I don’t have room in my head to worry about your day–I’m doing good to get through my own. My head gets so full of stuff that dentist appointments and due dates might go unnoticed. You should call before you come over because I might need to make a path through my cluttered house. No one in this family has ever been starving, so someone else can find the store and everyone needs to learn that leftovers are fabulous–get used to them. While I am in bed, chances are I am doing plenty of sleeping, but I am also running through scenarios, memories, and praying–sometimes doing those things exhausts me so much I need another nap. In the bath I read and I think and I think about what I read (I love receiving words as much as I like giving them away). I probably will growl–probably more than I should ever admit–because sometimes my sadness comes through as anger. This is grieving, not depression.

I can also tell you what I won’t do. I will not feel guilty. We all will be better off if that is clear up front. I know I am doing what I need to so that I will be healthy and whole again. When you struggle, I will allow you to growl a bit too. I have enough guilt about other things, I can’t carry guilt for this too. I won’t be the person who is pretends struggles don’t affect me; I know myself too well to be that foolish. I will not apologize for not being myself. When I go through earth-shattering changes, I am not myself for a long time and I will never be the me I was before the experience. I will be different and hopefully for the better. That is the journey.

Fortunately, most of those who care about me know these things about me. Everyone has been wonderful through the loss of my grandparents (honestly). Losing them brought grief back into my life and made me more sensitive to the things people say and do when grieving, but also how it might be perceived by those who are trying to support them through this difficult journey. I watch people on TV and on social media platforms and sometimes comments are cringe-worthy for me. As much as we want to help, many times we aren’t sure what to do.

So for those of you who are struggling, whether it be custody battles, medical crisis, divorce,  someone’s death, or loss of employment, please know that however you feel it is okay. There is a difference between being sad and being depressed. Don’t let well-intentioned people looking in convince you of your path. At the same time, if you are feeling hopeless, or if you are trapped by sadness to the point where you can’t function, or if you feel like you need to get off the couch but just can’t–seek help. There is absolutely no shame in knowing you don’t have the answers to see the way out. Start with your family physician and if you feel comfortable, seek counseling–it can be more help than you can imagine (I have done both of these things in the past).

If you want to help someone grieve, here are some things to consider. First things first, you cannot get your friend or loved one through this strugge. It is their struggle. Doing it for them or keeping them from the task at hand can do more damage than good. Be a leaning post, carry tissues with you when you see them, and listen when they want to share. As much as we want to have the right words and come up with some quick fix, often that just isn’t feasable. You are not responsible for making them whole again. You are a supporter.

With that said, look for serious signs of depression. Sometimes a depressed person cannot see how deep their struggle is. In that case, sometimes an outsider can share their concern and what they are seeing. Be their mirror.

Please understand, just because they seem sad and sleep a lot does not mean they are depressed. Silence does not equate depression either.  Chances are, as they heal they will open up–when they are ready. It might be different than when you were grieving and it might be uncomfortable for you to watch. If you were in the car with someone who managed to get lost, you wouldn’t rip the wheel from their hands. That wouldn’t be good for anyone. This is their journey–you are there for entertainment and to read the map–let them drive.




Day 18: 365 Days of Motivation for Widows

“There is a sacredness in tears. They are not the mark of weakness, but of power. They speak more eloquently than ten thousand tongues. They are the messengers of overwhelming grief, of deep contrition, and of unspeakable love.”
–Washington Irving

This quote is amazingly beautiful. I normally would try to expand on a quote and show you how it applies to your journey as a widow, your healing as a person, and continuation of your life. This quote stands on its own merit as one that speaks to your heart; it needs nothing from me.

Learning From the Past, No Regrets

There’s a lot to learn from the past. I grew up surrounded by adults most. I spent most of my days with my grandparents and their friends. I loved listening to their stories about growing up. They stories about my mom, stories about the war, stories about their storms in life and in marriage, and even the stories about when I was a baby.

The only person I liked to listen to more was my great-grandmother, who we called Grandmother. It was fun picturing my grandma as a little girl and hard to imagine the way the world worked back then. As I grew up, I spent less time on the floor at my Grandmother’s feet listening to stories and more time chasing boys. I married and had kids and before I knew it, Grandmother had died.

The stories didn’t all die with her, many survived in Grandma and her sisters. Even if they might not remember being there, they remember the way Grandmother told the story. Lately, I have been with Grandma and Grandpa more. Even though their memories are not what they should be, they can still share a story. Sometimes it means I have to fill the gaps with how I remember the story being told.

I visit them every Sunday, no matter what life throws at me.  This sunday was no different, except for there was a surprise. One of Grandpa’s old friends, Jim, was there. It’s funny how they met. They grew up in the same small town, but never met. They knew who the other was, but had no relationship, until they joined the army.

After joining the army, they had to get to basic training. The army loaded them on a bus to head to the train station. It was on that bus ride they realized they could be friends. The train ride sealed the forever friends. They now have been friends about 62 years. They fought in the Korean War together, separate divisions, but never too far apart. They got married just months apart. Strangely enough, they both married women who were similar in looks, stature, and personality.

Just like when I was a kid, I sat on the floor and listened to story after story. In between the stories Grandpa would interject his protest on aging and our efforts to help him through this challenging stage. Jim argue how lucky Grandpa is to have someone to help him through this stage of life.

Grandpa started spewing his list of regrets, Jim stopped him. “Red, you can’t do that. We all do the best we can and we end up where we are supposed to be. You fought for your country, you married a beautiful woman, you worked all your life and raised a family, and now you’re old. There’s no shame in that. That’s a good life.”

Jim’s words were not lost on me. In fact, they instantly hit home. The first thing we do during a storm is look for blame. Often, we blame ourselves. We wonder if we could have done something different. Could we have chosen a different path? Should we have said this or not said that? We can’t get lost in changing history. No one can change what’s already happened. Storms come, without warning sometimes. Blaming someone, or questioning possible regrets leaves us locked in that spot. Locked in that pain. We have to let go of ‘should-ing’ ourselves so we can move on. 

Jim followed his first profound statement to Grandpa with, ” Ya know, Red, it’s funny. Life seems really hard sometimes. When you are in the middle something terrible, it feels like the end of the world. When I look back now, they were just little blips on the map. Sure, it was hard then, but now, I can see it was just life. I look back and can remember how hard it was, but I can also see even in the worst times, there was good.”

I couldn’t say that anymore perfectly. Once again, I’m humbled. He’s right–completely right. Jim wasn’t saying every experience is the way we want it to be. He came from a generation of hardships. He fought in a foreign war. He saved lives and took lives. He knows what it’s like to suffer, to go through hard times. He even knows what it feels like to wonder if you’ll make it out alive. Yet, here he is, confirming that as bad as things seem now, you learn to live.

Jim knows, through my grandparents, what happened to Randy. I have only met Jim and his wife a handful of times, ever. We have never discussed what happened with Randy, how it has affected me, or how I feel now. Here he is, saying nearly exactly how I feel about what I went through. I know his words were not about me. The words were to help Grandpa deal with the effects of aging and life as it is now. Jim was just being a friend. His words of wisdom, of experience, resonated through the entire room.

Our elders are our history, America’s history. They lived life during a time we can only imagine. A time when life was never easy. People were poor. Families were large and they worked together to meet the needs of the family. Food was rationed and difficult to prepare. Diseases were rampant. Medicine was crude and life spans short. The storms they faced are unfathomable to younger generations.  Even though it’s hard for us to understand exactly how difficult life might have been, our elders’ advice is clear. Jim’s words were clear. They made sense. They hit home. They were right.

Heed Jim’s advice. I think he’s on to something. Life is undetermined. We have no idea where it will take us. Life doesn’t knock or make appointments. It happens and we need to handle it the best we know. We need to learn, grow, and live.

It’s All About You…

I started this site because I wanted to help other widows/widowers, younger ones especially. It turns out widows/widowers aren’t the only ones who can relate to my experiences. People grieving other types of losses are also able to relate. From those grieving their children to those grieving the loss of a marriage because of divorce.

I have heard from many of you. Many of you say the words are helpful. Most often it’s because you are experiencing the same thing or because you have had questions and knowing how I handled something answered some of your questions. Sometimes it is because you weren’t sure if you were doing the right things and hearing what I did reassured you in some small way.

That got me thinking (I’m a thinker by nature), what am I not answering?

I had a million questions as I was grieving, especially that first year or year and a half. My counselor answered as best she could, using her education, experience, and knowledge from how her sister handled it. That’s what I really wanted to know. How did another widow handle what I was going through? Sometimes I had so many questions, I wasn’t even sure where to start. I want to answer those questions for you, but there is so much to tell.

This process has been eleven years in the making. There were some things that touched me so deeply, they are still vividly playing in my brain. Those things are probably what I have written about first. There is so much more to say, but what if you are wondering something I haven’t mentioned. You are all at different stages of rebuilding from the storm. I bet you all have your own questions. Maybe some of you are wishing I would talk about X topic or wonder if I have ever experienced Y.
Here is your chance. Let me know. What questions are weighing you down? What problems do you wish you had solutions to? What do you wonder about? What would help you to know more about? Ask away. I would love to help you, if I can. Don’t feel stupid. There is no reason to. This is hard and it’s something that makes people so uncomfortable they don’t talk about it. Death really is the elephant in the room sometimes.  Don’t feel like I won’t know because no one else is going through it. Chances are that isn’t true. One thing this journey of blogging has taught me, we are all the same (well, close). There are definitely things you all have written in your blogs that I have not touched on and I read yours and completely relate to what you are saying–down to the exact words. It really is amazing.

This post may get a hundred responses or none. Either is okay. I just want to give you the opportunity. If you want to respond, do so in the comments. Just let me know the topic you’d like to talk about or the questions you would like answered. I will answer them in a post dedicated to just that topic or question. This offer never expires. The opportunity is always open.


Unexpected Anniversaries

It’s been 11 years since Randy died. He died August 18, 2001. It was only four days after his 26th birthday and three days before our son’s 5th birthday.

August 2002 marked one year, an anniversary I never expected to have. The anniversaries for the death of your husband, spouse, or anyone close to you are unlike any other  anniversary you will experience. Usually, leading up to an anniversary, you might pick out a gift and card. Perhaps on your anniversary you might go out to dinner, movie, or just curl up on the couch together.

Death anniversaries are much different, of course. I expected to be sad and lonely on the anniversary of his death. What I did not expect was to completely shut down from the world and experience horrible anxiety for the month of August.

That first year anniversary was terrible, as you can imagine. I felt like I was losing my mind again, like I felt in the beginning stages of my journey. The panic attacks returned. They were mild, but there. I couldn’t sleep again. I didn’t return phone calls. My bills were all late. And, my kids were suffering too;I quit leaving the house for dance classes and homework suddenly wasn’t a priority. If I’m being honest, neither was showering. It was complete regression. I was seeing a counselor, but all of a sudden I could hardly make myself go. When I finally made it to the counselor, we talked about it.

She asked if I thought I was having a hard time because the anniversary of Randy’s death was getting close. My immediate reaction was “I don’t think so”. She was satisfied with that answer. Now I know she was probably hoping I would think on that and realize it was because the anniversary was looming. She was right. I left the office thinking. What if it was the anniversary. What do I do about that? How do I fix that? She and I worked on it, every week. I discovered when I left the house, I did feel a little better. I also realized I withdrew from my friends because I didn’t want to talk about Randy. I didn’t want them to notice something was wrong either.

I had started talking to Tim. We were just friends, but he was already a good support system for me. He often came over after work and we would watch movies and talk. I’m sure he noticed a difference, but I was pretty good at hiding my pain. Tim isn’t a big talker and for that whole month of August, I was glad. The night before Randy’s birthday anniversary, we were talking. I could tell he wanted to say something, but wasn’t sure how to say it

“Tomorrow is Randy’s birthday, right? Are you okay?”

“Yeah, I guess. As good as I can be.”

“What are you doing tomorrow?”

“I don’t know. My grandma is coming over to watch Emily and give me some time. Maybe I’ll go shopping. Jewelry shopping.”

He laughed, “Yeah, right. You are going to go shopping? And you’re going to buy jewelry.”

I knew what he was getting at, I hate shopping. Now, I know that is so un-girly, but it’s true. “Yeah, I know, it’s strange for me. I think I do really want to go shopping. I think I want a nice piece of jewelry to remember.”

Still smirking, “I don’t believe you.”

“We’ll see.” I answered.

But I did what I said I was going to do, a personality trait Tim came to admire. I saw some jewelry that I had never seen before–past, present, future jewelry. That was meant to be, I was supposed to be there. I bought a sapphire past, present, future ring. It was perfect. I brought it home and he came over that night. I was in bed watching TV. I had cried, maybe off and on for hours. He laid down behind me, wrapped his arms around me, and let me keep crying. Eventually, I rolled over long enough to show him the ring, which he liked. We had a good laugh about the shopping for jewelry thing. It didn’t last long, we watched a little TV, through my tears, and eventually, I fell asleep just as I was, while he held me. I woke up the next morning in his arms.

The date of Randy’s death was the same routine, minus the jewelry shopping. Strangely, after those two days passed, I felt better. I seemed to be back on track to healing, as if I never had a detour to the  journey.

The next year, towards the beginning of August, my friends called me out on my strange behavior. I couldn’t really explain it. I had felt okay. I didn’t feel like there was a reason that I would almost disappear from the world. Same with the year after, and then it dawned on me: the body and mind remembers. No matter how far removed I was from the date of his death, my body carried that pain and it resurfaces around the anniversary. On the surface, I knew the dates were coming, but I never felt like I was focused on them. I always felt like I was doing pretty good, considering. I always felt like I continued to move forward. Sure, we all have moments, even eleven years later. We miss them, but over all, we are doing good. Our lives are generally happy and life is good.

Once I became aware of what was happening, I explained to my friends. My family understood, they were experiencing the same thing. My friends made sure to try to give me some space in August, but not let me have too much space. They helped me not sink back into all the pain. They were perfect. Tim understands too. He has a terrible memory, so I often have to explain what time of year it is, but once I remind him, he is wonderful. I quit thinking about the anniversary date all together because that day is nothing but pain for me and my family.  And, honestly, the more time went on, I was okay to be happy. I didn’t feel the need to make sure I was miserable as proof that I still loved him. I was going to be happy, the way I was, and think of him when I wanted to think of him. It was okay to be happy. The anniversary was not going to control me.

My subconscious mind and my body had other plans. Your body remembers, even if you don’t want it to. The last few years, I have finally been able to function through August. The feelings still surface. Because I don’t think about losing him every day anymore, it hard for me to realize what is going on. I’m a thinker though, so when I see that I am withdrawing (not returning calls, irritable, and staying it bed) I evaluate what is going on. It’s always that anniversary month. I work hard at not letting it get the best of me. Now, I control it, instead of it controlling me.

The body remembers, even if we don’t want it to or think we are doing fine. Be prepared. Cut yourself a break. It’s okay. Find something to do that gets you out of the house or re-connects you with people who love you. Just like everything concerning grief, it will get better. You have to work a bit and it isn’t easy, but you can get through it. You can get through anything. Don’t give up.



No one’s life is perfect. We all go through our own storms and have our own troubles. Sometimes the storms we face are more than we can handle on our own. Some of us have great support systems and some of us do not. Even those of us with great family and friends don’t want to burden them with our problems, or maybe we don’t want them to worry about us. So, then what do we do when we are facing a mega-storm and feel completely alone? Seek help, professionally.

Over the years, I have had many friends who would talk about how alone they felt or how they couldn’t move past the fact they lost someone important. My response is the same every time: seek help, talk to a counselor. I’m not just talking here folks; I went to counseling myself. I was just as apprehensive about the experience as you are. I didn’t want someone analyzing my every thought. I couldn’t see myself sitting there spilling my every thought to a stranger who talks to me like they actually know me. I had seen enough television medical shows to know what to expect. And then 9/11 happened, just 25 days after my husband died.

I just knew this had to be the end. I had lost my past, present, and future and now New York was erupting in fire, people were jumping from buildings, and the streets covered in dust and debris. It’s nearly identical to how I had pictured ‘the end’. Nothing was making sense, it all was a blur. One day, in a relative moment of clarity, I noticed I was sitting on my bed, watching people jump from a building in the endless news coverage of 9/11, rocking and shaking. For a moment, I thought I might have finally gone crazy. But, then it hit me, this was bigger than me. This was more than I could handle and for my sanity and the future of my kids, I had to get help.

Mind you, I didn’t jump up off the bed and dial the phone. It was very overwhelming. It took me awhile to do what I knew I needed to do. I couldn’t shake the TV image of counseling. I just dreaded making the call. I didn’t know where to start anyway. It was too complicated. Those were all the excuses I fed myself. As I laid on the couch one day, trying to talk my 8 month old baby into taking a nap, again, so I didn’t have to get up and do anything, I realized that wasn’t fair to her and I really did have to do something.

I found my husband’s employee handbook from Illinois Power. I was only 25 and ignorant to the ways of the world, but I did remember looking at the book with him and I remembered there was an Employee Assistant Program (EAP) that offered counseling. I didn’t know anything EAPs. I took a deep breath and dialed the phone. The person on the other side was very nice, and knowledgable. It was a man, his name was Jeff.

We found a place that was close. He told me if I didn’t like that place, we would try again. I took the number, thanked him for his time, and hung up. Now came the really hard part–I had to call and make the appointment. Every part of me was screaming at me to put it off, but I knew if I did, I might never follow through. I knew I had to follow through.

Again, the woman on the other end was fairly nice, although I could tell they were busy. I made the appointment. I made it for just a few days later. I asked my grandma to babysit the baby so I could go alone the first time. I wasn’t sure this is what I wanted. And, I wasn’t sure how this worked, but I knew it wouldn’t work if I didn’t like the person. I wanted to be able to talk without the disruption of the kids.

Appointment day came fast. I cried all morning. I did not want to do this. I just didn’t. I tried to think of a way to get out of it, but I had already told Grandma why I needed her. There was no way she was going to let me out of this, at least not easily. It probably would be easier to go to the appointment. I tried to look decent, like I hadn’t been crying for a month. When Grandma showed up, I headed out. The one upside is I knew even though my house was clean, it would be better when I got back. Chances are, supper would even be done. Grandma could not resist cooking and cleaning. My standards were never as high as hers, so if nothing else, I wouldn’t have to clean or cook for the rest of the day. I figured that alone, made it worth it.

I cried all the way to the appointment, in between deep breathing to calm myself. I walked through the door to see a rather long, nearly empty waiting room. The office had several therapists/counselors in it. The only thing I knew about my counselor was her name: Tamra. After what seemed like an eternity of completing paperwork, I turned it all in. Just a few short minutes later there was a woman at the door calling my name.

She was a heavier woman, dressed very nicely. She was pretty. Her hair and make up nearly perfect. We took a short walk to her office. She sat in a chair off to the side of her desk and I sat in the nice comfy chair in front of her. She introduced herself and shook my hand. “What brings you in today?” She asked. I knew she had read the paperwork.

“Well,” I started, not exactly sure what to say, “I guess you know my husband died.”

She nodded. “I did see that.”

I could feel my lip trembling. I was trying so hard not to cry. Instead, I rambled “So, that’s why I’m here. I’ve never done this before and I’m not sure what its like. I’m not even sure I can do this. I called the EAP because I think I need to be here. The one thing, the only thing I know is I have to be comfortable, and no offense, I have to like you, or this won’t work. Please don’t be offended if I move on and find someone else. I might like you, I hope I do, but I just want to be upfront about this.” I stopped when I ran out of things to say.

“I completely understand,” She said so sincerely, “the most important thing is that you are comfortable and if you aren’t with me, I want you to find someone you are comfortable with.” She explained her credentials, what she does, and how it all worked.

Whew. I was so glad all of that uncomfortable talk was over. It was such a relief, I almost smiled.

“Why don’t you tell me what happened to your husband?”

I did just that. I spilled my entire story about Randy from start to finish. She listened patiently, asked only questions to clarify. She showed intense, sincere concern.  Every once in a while she would hand me a tissue. It took awhile to get through it all, sobbing makes everything take longer, but I did make it to the end. She looked at me and said two words. With teary eyes she said, “I’m sorry.”

She meant it. I could feel she meant it. The only thing I could say back was, “Me, too.”

“Sara, I don’t usually share anything personal, but I want you to know that I have been through some of this in my personal life. My sister’s husband was also killed by a drunk driver. She was alone with children, too. I helped her through some of her hardest times, as a sister, not a counselor. I really do understand. I really think I can help you and together I think we can get through this.”

Instantly, I felt at ease. I knew she was the one. I had a million and one questions about her sister, but I refrained.

“I wish we could go on, but our hour is up. Do you think you want to make another appointment?”

I nodded. “Thanks. I know this might be a strange way to do things, but I want my kids to have the same benefit I do. Is there anyway I can bring them with me sometimes, or every time if they want to?”

“Absolutely, Sara. I think that is a great idea. I know it’s hard, but it really sounds like you have a natural way to deal with stuff like this. I really like the things you have said to your kids and the way you are handling this. Bringing the kids if they need to is an example of that.”

Wow. That almost made me feel human and gave me an air of hope. Made me feel like we might make it out of this as whole people.

We walked out of the office together. She went into the back and I walked to the front window to make another appointment. The goal was to go 2-3 times a week for a three weeks. And, then step down to 1-2 times a week.

Before every appoint, I spent a lot of time taking deep breaths and searching for a way out.    There were a couple of appointments I succeeded. When I missed an appointment, she called me. I didn’t miss many, but when I did she worried. She knew how complicated and sad my life was at that point. She genuinely cared.

Every appointment started with “So, Sara, how is everything going?” And, every appointment, I told her my struggles and my accomplishments. Sometimes my accomplishments were as simple as taking a shower every day, falling asleep with the TV off, and getting all the kids homework done for the week. She was so proud of me when she learned I was volunteering and working out. Those were huge steps. She even helped me identify and end my panic attacks. She listened to Kayla. She played with Brendan and Emily. Sometimes, if it was a particularly bad week for me, or if I wanted to talk about something I didn’t want to burden the kids with, I left them with my Grandma or made the appointment for when the older ones were in school.

Those appointments had a lot of emotion and a lot of tears, especially the first six months or so of counseling. It felt like the tears washed away the anxiety and the fear. I didn’t see many people then, except family. Seeing her face really made me feel like I wasn’t alone. I could tell her anything, literally. After I spilled my thoughts, we would talk about them. We would talk about how that was helpful or how far I had come. We would look at some of the things I had struggled with that week and try to find tips or solutions to make it easier next time. We glanced ahead to see if she could help me gain some confidence or give advice to make the coming days easier until we could meet again.

It always felt like I was lighter when I left the office. I felt like I had handed off some of the weeks problems to someone else and like I had a step up on the days ahead. Gradually, I spent less and less time crying, I could focus better and for longer periods of time. I remember the first time I genuinely smiled. I remember the first day I didn’t cry.

The EAP paid 100% at first, then it went down, and down, until they paid nothing. Your EAP, or your husband’s, might be different. I saw her for over a year. She helped me enter the dating world and navigate my way through it. She helped the kids through it too.

When it was time to say goodbye, it was as hard as meeting her for the first time. If someone would have told me that in the beginning, I never would have believe them! I actually cried leaving. Part of that was her. I knew I would miss her. Part of it was knowing that I was on my own now. She had given me the tools, confidence, and knowledge, but now I had to put it into play, everyday. Oh, that was scary!

I did it though. I did it and I did it well. Looking back, I don’t know if I could have gone through that without her. If I would have been able to make it without her, it would have been much harder and taken much longer.

I am constantly telling people, “Get help.” I tell them I did it and that it was hard, but I have never explained what you can expect when you see a counselor. Not every counselor is the same. That is great news! It’s great because we all are different too. None of our experiences are the same and we don’t react to experiences the same. I wanted to take some time and explain how I started seeing a counselor and what I experienced, in better detail.

I should mention, not only did Tamra influence my re-build after the storm, but she also shaped my career. She told me she was a social worker and explained what they did. She asked me if I had ever considered social work (I had no college education at this point) because I seemed to have natural instincts that would help me with social work. I hadn’t ever thought about it, but I started researching. Within months of ending our time together, I was enrolled full-time in college. I also got an entry-level social work job working with at-risk youth who were lockouts or runaways. My goal for my degree was social work. I completed my degree 4 years later. It turns out, many of my professors and my boss agreed with Tamra. Social Work doesn’t come easy to everyone, some have to work at it. Apparently, I am a natural.  That education, combined with my experiences and my personality lead me to follow my passion for helping widows.

Counseling really did help me, in more ways than one might imagine. Now that you know how counseling works, hopefully you will give it a shot. Your sanity and future are worth it. You are worth it.

Kids Grieve Too

When Randy died, my kids were 7 years old, almost 5 years old, and 7 months old. I hoped the older two would remember their dad, but I knew there was no chance for my 7 month old to ever know her dad.

The oldest, Kayla, remembers certain things about her dad. She even remembers things I don’t. Her perspective was different from mine. She noticed things that I took for granted. When we compare notes, it’s interesting to see the differences. Together, we create a whole picture. Her memory wasn’t always so clear. After her dad died, she placed him on pedestal higher than God. No, really, she did. He was the best at everything and bad at nothing.

No one could measure up, not even me. Out of frustration, or maybe jealousy, and sometimes out of wanting a good chuckle, I would mention something about him that was not so flattering. Like, I might mention that he was really great at annoying people. So much so,his dad referred to him as ‘annoying man’. Randy would sit and flip the remote over and over or tap his fingers or whistle or anything he thought might grate on your nerves the tiniest bit…then he’d giggle. That was enough to send Kayla off the deep end. I would have to listen to all kinds of negative talk about how I must be glad he was gone and how I just wanted to date (it all stemmed back to that time period when we weren’t getting along). Eventually, as she healed, Randy joined the land of the mortals and the pedestal came tumbling down. Now, 11 years later, she can talk about the good, the annoying, and even some of his bad habits with honesty and a smile.

The important thing is, she has a whole picture. He mattered and I want her to know it, but I want her to have a healthy memory. If she left him on that pedestal, she would never be happy with a step-father, or probably any man. I didn’t want her to turn away boyfriends because she compared everyone to this unrealistic image of her father.

Brendan was just days away from his 5th birthday when Randy was killed. In fact, his party was supposed to be that day. Because Brendan was so young, I worried about his memories. I know that I remember very little from when I was four and five. I worried he would only remember the traumatic memories. I worried they would trump the good memories. I was right, they have. He remembers one or two things about his dad. What he remembers how it felt losing him, what it was like looking at him in the casket, and other things I wish he could forget.

Brendan is quieter than his siblings, much like his father. He rarely says anything, but when he does, it’s because it is important to him. Occasionally, he will ask something about his dad that we haven’t talked about. When Kayla and I talk about Randy, he is always listening. He gets very emotionally, very fast, whereas Kayla usually is a little calmer. We all have our moments, but his emotional responses come much faster. When they come, he’s done talking. His response has stayed fairly consistent since I told him his dad died.

When I told him Randy was dead, he intentionally fell asleep. It still hurts bad enough, that when emotions surface, he is out of there. There have been moments when he has asked me questions and finished the conversation, even through the tears. I see very gradual change in him. He functions well and we have had no problems with him. I do wish he had more memories and I hope if we talk about Randy enough, he will be able to picture it in his head and at least have some non-traumatic memories. Poor Emily has no memories at all.

Emily was only 7 months when Randy died. In some ways she is the luckiest of all, and in others, the most impaired. She doesn’t know the pain we knew. She doesn’t remember how terrible it was to walk that path. That’s the good and the bad news.

I often wondered as she was growing up when she would ask about Randy. When, or if, she would ever grieve him. Would she be the crazy kid who fought the law and parents her whole life because she never heard my incessant speeches about compassion, strength, and faith? Would she end up pregnant at 16 to fill the void of her dad?

I got remarried to my current husband in April 2004. It had been 3 years since Randy died. Tim entered our lives, as a friend first, when Emily was only about 16 months old. No one told any of the kids to call him dad. No one told Tim he had to be their dad. The two pieces just fell together. All of the kids think of him as dad. They tell everyone else he is their dad. When we are at home, usually the older two call him Tim. He doesn’t take place of their dad, but he is one of their dads. How lucky are they to have not only ONE dad who loved them, but to have TWO? That is amazing. I know that Randy and his family are happy to know there is a man out there, here on earth, who loves them and treats them as if they were always his. Everyone needs a dad and Tim makes a great one. Emily and Brendan do not remember a time when he wasn’t their dad. We differentiate between the two when we need to by using the names ‘Daddy Randy’ and ‘Daddy Tim’.

Since we think of Randy as their dad in Heaven and Tim as their dad on earth, we feel no need to clarify to others. Tim isn’t a step-dad and Randy isn’t the biological dad. They are both dads. How that came to be is no one’s business, but ours. When we mention ‘dad’ or ‘daddy’ to others, usually it refers to Tim.

One summer, when Emily was about 8 years old, she started talking about death a lot. She also started asking question after question about her dad. We spent every day at the pool because she was on summer swim team. One day I go strolling into the pool, sun shining bright, with the intent to grab a chair and soak up some morning sun during their two-hour practice. Before I could even get comfortable one of the other moms hurried towards me. I waited for her since it seemed important. She placed her hand on my arm with concern and said, “Oh my gosh! Emily told me her dad died.”

“What?” I said, quite confused.

“She said he was killed in car wreck.”

“Ohhhh!” I replied with a small smile.

I explained the situation. I think that mom was more concerned about Emily’s strange e obsession with her dad’s death after the explanation. I don’t think she understood what was going on with Emily.

To me, it suddenly made sense. Emily had told everyone about Randy’s death. All the concern and fascination about death and Randy all made sense. It had been almost 8 years since his death and she was grieving. Apparently, she was telling everyone we knew that her dad had died. She was going through all the questions the kids had been through. Just like Kayla and Brendan, she was concerned I would die too. She needed to picture that sad time in her mind and work through all the exact issues that the other kids had already mastered.

I worried about her, often. I wondered if I should take her to counseling, like I did with the other kids. We spent hours talking. Sometimes the topic came up at strange times, but we always talked. I answered her questions, we talked about her concerns. We talked about how it was okay to go through this and that it all would work out. I offered her the chance to go to counseling and she declined. Eventually, the topic subsided and she was content with her knowledge. The stage lasted for about 6 months.

At 12 years old, there is much unknown about her future, but some of my questions are answered. She will grieve him just like the other kids did and she will work through it and heal just like the other kids did.

Even kids walk their own path when it comes to grief. It’s our job to support them. Try not to be shocked by what they say. Kids are very direct. They are trying to figure the world out and decide how they feel about it. They are not big picture thinkers. They have little or no thought about how their words might hurt someone else. So, keep up your armor when talking to them about sensitive subjects. Talking about it might be painful for you, too. Doing it together might allow you to learn something about your child or yourself. It also might help you heal a bit more. It was always easier for me to deal with my own grief when it seemed like my kids were healing too.

However you do it, remember there are no right or wrong answers. There are no hard and fast rules. And, whatever the age of your child, they might experience their own grief and will need your support. Together, you can do anything.


Tears of Men

Life is a series of moments. Moments shape our lives. Some moments more than others. Randy’s death unleashed moment after moment after defining moment. As hard as death is, there is a certain inevitable grace and beauty that comes in the process of healing.

If you would have told me that in those first days or months after Randy’s death, I never would have believed you.  It’s hard, unbearable at times, to walk the path of a widow, or to walk through any storm. Moments created in grief, uplifted my soul and carried me through to a time when I could stand on my own to feet.

Some of those moments are unexpected. When I arrived at the funeral home for Randy’s visitation, I was broken. The anticipation of walking through those doors was torture. The thought of seeing him and the final goodbyes were more than I could comprehend. Every step closer to the doors made the tears fall faster. By the time I arrived at the casket, I was almost inconsolable. Then something happened that I had never imagined.

By 4:00pm, the scheduled time for the viewing to begin, the room was full. Not only was the chapel full, but  I was getting reports from people in the line that it was wound down the hall, back up the other side, through the other chapel, outside to the steps, through the parking lot, and down the sidewalk for more than a block. The chapel was full of flowers. In fact, the flowers, gifts, and statues also overflowed our chapel into the next.  A response I could never have expected. I heard the wait time to see me was about an hour and a half.

Person after person entered that room, made their way patiently to the front of the chapel to greet me. Each one played a special role in his life, my life, or a family members life. The longer I stood there and the more people I met seemed to push my tears further and further away. It wasn’t that I was happy or even relieved. I was astonished. I felt loved. I felt supported. And more than anything, I was completely amazed at the number of people who wanted to be a part of this day.

I stood at the front of that room, without moving, and greeted people for close to five hours! I could look down the line of people and see the constant wiping of tears and dabbing of noses. The room filled with the muffled sound of soft conversations and quiet sniffling. I looked up to greet the next person, and instead I saw an empty space. I saw a church friend partially bent over, holding onto a chair. He was sobbing. The rest of the room fell rather silent. People were trying to act as if they weren’t watching, but they couldn’t help it. His chest heaving and tears streaming from his eyes, he fell to his knees. Randy’s dad leaned on one knee to console him. Together they stood. I watched, speechless. Tears silently fell down my cheek. The pair gradually made it to me. Our friend could barely speak through his tears. I hugged him as he wept. I wanted to help him. I rubbed his shoulder and softly said, “You don’t have to say anything; I know its hard. I’m just glad you are here.”

He was the first person to just weep. He was the first man I had ever seen cry like that. He was the first of many men I saw weep just as deeply that evening. And with each one, I cried. I didn’t cry because I felt their grief, although I did feel it. I cried because it touched me. It touched me in a way that nothing else could have. The honesty shared through the tears of men was beautiful. That instant, that moment in time, shaped my healing process. It carved my path. I believe God was showing me what I needed to see to move forward with life.

We get caught up in ‘me, myself, and I’. Where I want to work. How much money I want to make. How big my house is. My car is better than your car. My husband works harder. My kids are smarter. What you can do for me. It’s all garbage and all of that garbage, in time, fades away.

Sometimes, we forget about other people. We forget that maybe money, houses, and cars aren’t the real blessings in life. We forget that we all set out to do the best we can, and some of us might need help learning how to achieve it. Everyone’s husbands, wives, mothers, fathers, friends, and children mean just as much to them as yours do to you–even when they aren’t perfect. Maybe, we should focus on what I can do for you and not what you can do for me. That is where the blessing is.

None of us will be here forever. And, as life with Randy showed me, some of us are gone way too soon. The things people remembered about Randy wasn’t our pitiful house, or the fact we did things backwards by getting pregnant and then married. They remembered he was young, smart, and dedicated. He was a good father and worked hard to support his young, ever-growing family. He loved Jesus, his family, sleep, hunting, and sports (in that order). He followed the rules and expected others to do the same. He helped and protected people and animals alike. He was a friend to everyone and an enemy of none.

Seeing tears of men shaped my life.

I walked into that building feeling broken and defeated. I left that building knowing that life is important and amazing. I went home knowing that everyone’s life is connected and affects others on a scale impossible to fathom. That night proved to me that life really is about something bigger than me. The instant our friend fell to his knees, helped me put away the ‘why is this happening to me?’ question and start asking, ‘why should it have happened to someone else? Why do I think someone else should suffer instead of me?’ Had I not experienced that night, those little moments, I’m not sure I would have healed, ever. That instant made me realize how much of an impact I have on others, especially my children.

I think about that night fairly often. I’m not stuck in that moment, but it still means so much to me. Sometimes, when life is pulling me down and I’m not sure how I am going to climb back out, that night comes back to me. It reminds me what really matters in life.

April 12, 2002: Eight Months After My World Quit Turning.

This is a journal entry that I kept online after Randy died. It is as it was when I wrote it. Mistakes, passion, and at times unintelligible blabbering all included. It isn’t pretty. It was real, though. This was a vent. If you haven’t been where I was during the time I wrote this, then don’t judge. If you have been in this state… then, you completely understand.

April 12, 2002

I am so tired of being by myself. I am tired of having little conversation outside of this house and the only communication inside the house consisting of direction to my children. I am tired of everyone depending on me to come up with the best answers. I am tired of it being me alone that cleans up everyone’s messes all the time. I am tired of falling asleep to the cold pillow on my face. I am tired of having no one to depend on for the type of support I need. I am tired of not being hugged or kissed. They say that it is proven to be necessary for people to thrive. While the kids give all kinds of them to me, there are feelings between a man and a woman that no family member can offer. I want those feelings. I need those feelings, and without them, I am just one heap of sludge. If the sludge doesn’t show, it is only because no one wants to see it. I am angry. I am oh so lonely. I miss Randy so much. I miss the talks, hugs, and even aggravation.

I am making it, but I am tired of trying. I am tired of never having down time. I am anything but energized and happy.  I find times that make me smile. Often I can hide how distraught I am by the whole ordeal. I can even keep trudging through, but how I would love to have some type of the peace that I long for. Just a few moments of an ant free house, no kids yelling, time to breathe and not have to clean house at the same time. I need a vacation from life, but I don’t know where to find one.

I am going to stop somewhere and take a break. I am going to smell the roses, I am going to breathe. I am going to catch up on everything I need to catch up on. I want to find myself …

I want to know who I am. Before I can find anyone that I want, or who will want me. I have to know what I want and who I am.  I have to know what I want and who I want. I have to find the laugh that I used to have and the time I used to have and the fun that I know that lies deep within me. I need that piece of me that calms me when the world is in complete chaos.

I need my life back. So, how do I do that?