The Widow or Widower Next Door

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You Hold the World Today...

Many decades ago, long before I contemplated marriage in any real way, I read where famous reporter Nancy Dickerson gave her view on a good marriage. She said "My idea of marriage is when I say to my husband 'Here, I'll hold the world on my shoulders today, you hold it for me tomorrow.'  ".


Through the years and two marriages, I came to understand what she meant. Some days we just get world weary. Things aren't going well at work, an elderly parent needs care, the bills are piling up, and houses always need some sort of repair.  In marriage, while we still have to contend with that demanding boss, look after that parent who has fallen, find a way to pay those bills and get the fallen tree removed, it just seemed easier with a mate at my side to share the load. Someone to "cover me" while I took a nap.


It seems such a luxurious idea now to simply have someone else around to answer the door, pick up the phone, let the dogs out. And when trouble comes? That's when I really miss my Atlas husband.  Little things that add up to big things.


I had two funerals to attend this past weekend, back to back. Two of my neighbors died, both too young, within a day of one another. People occassionally remark, as they did this weekend, that they never see me cry. I refrain from telling them that I'm afraid if I got started, I'd never stop.  The pall that hung over the neighborhood was nearly tangible. I can't tell you how much I would have enjoyed having my tall, sturdy, handsome husband by my side to lean into, if only for a little while.


I imagine myself turning to him and saying "Here Sweetheart, you hold the world today". The world is my oyster, and it gets heavy holding it up all by myself.



Grief and Thank You Notes, and Why We Should Write Them...


I mentioned that we've had a death in the neighborhood. Actually, we've had two. Another one right after the first.


They brought up the whole business of death-in-the-family rituals for me. One of those rituals is having the bereaved send thank you notes to all who sent flowers, brought casseroles, put up out-of-town guests.  


I've seen a lot of people comment on widow's sites and in books that the grieving certainly shouldn't be expected to write thank you's when they've never felt more devestated in their lives.  I see the logic behind that argument, but I still vehemently disagree. Here's why:


With every note I wrote, I was reminded of someone's kindness to me. In a world where there isn't much of that, it should be rewarded. With every note I wrote, I became grounded, if only for a moment, that despite my loss, there were still things and people to be thankful for.


While I wrote everyone of my own, it is perfectly acceptable to have someone else help you with them, maybe do the actual writing. I urge grievers to be involved in the process, however, maybe sitting with the person who is executing the note. Why?


Because it's therapeutic. It does the griever as much good to give thanks as it does the recipient to get thanks.


Go forth and be thankful....  It will get you through.


Fresh Loss in the Neighborhood....

We have a new widow in the neighborhood. She joined the club that nobody wants to join last night, when her husband passed away after losing the battle with cancer.

We don't know each other well, in fact, we've barely met, if we were even introduced. I do know that we don't have much in common, not much of a connection,  other than our marital status now.


I live in a new development, and when my husband died three years ago, three of the neighbors stepped up to help out, but the rest were M.I.A.  Pretty sorry turnout in a community of 15 families who were becoming friends.  I'm not certain what my role will be with this new loss. I don't think I'm the one who should be in the forefront, as I really am a stranger, but I'm thinking of ways to provide some support, some of the support that I didn't get.


An anonymous care package or two...that requires no thank yous or returned containers...on her part. Maybe some background coaching to those who do know her well. Leaving a book or two for her, a little further down the timeline. I do know I want to do something. If everyone could/would do something, it would ease grief just a little.


I do know I can't just be an observer. I remember how much it meant to me when I learned that even strangers cared. That's me....I care.




Book Launch !!!! Friday, April 8, 2016

So excited to announce the launch of another book in the acclaimed GRIEF DIARIES series.  How to Help the Newly Bereaved is a keystone and pivotal book in this long needed series that confronts grief and grieving head on. You'll hear from the foremost experts about how to help someone you love after they've lost a loved one. The experts are grievers themselves. Who better to tell you what helps and what hurts? You'll learn directly from them what you can do to ease their grief instead of making it worse.


Sadly, much of what we've all been taught to say and do for grievers is far off the mark. Let us show you a better way. 


This is a book that should be on every bookshelf in every household, bar none. This is a must read for anyone who wishes to comfort a grieving friend or family member.


Available on on Friday, April 8, 2016  and on this site very soon after.


An Irish Approach to Final Rituals....on This St. Patrick's Day

The rest of the world can learn from Irish funeral traditions


PUBLISHED02/11/2014 | 02:30

Mary Kenny1Mary Kenny

I encountered a young Irishwoman not long ago, who talked to me about having spent some time working in Germany. It was very rewarding and fulfilling, and she was glad to get away from Ireland, where, she felt, there were still some puritanical and inhibited attitudes to sexuality. In Germany, by contrast, she found people were much more open and natural in their attitudes to relationships and she thought that much better.


But then, her father died: and she was disappointed by how stilted and tight-lipped her German friends were about death. They couldn't talk about it. Sometimes they couldn't even express their condolences and feelings. When she returned to Ireland for the funeral, she felt so grateful for the Irish attitude to death - so graceful, so natural, so open.

And this isn't a unique experience: I've known many other Irish people across the diaspora who have said this - that when they came home for a funeral, or to attend to a dying relative, they hugely appreciated the Irish approach to death, including the practice of the "open coffin", which is an old Irish custom which has had quite a revival. Two of my oldest friends, June Levine and Mary Holland, were both waked in their Dublin homes with an "open coffin", and the dear departed lying in it, while we visited, paid our respects, talked and took refreshments.

This, I think, would be regarded with horror in England - except among certain ethnic minorities who have funeral rituals that do not conform to the norm. The English also avoid confronting death by keeping it private and formal: in England, you don't attend a funeral unless invited. "Oh, I didn't go to her funeral because I wasn't invited." As though it were a cocktail reception.

But a death is a public event in that it's on the public record, and the public nature of a funeral should be part of an open society, not only so that individuals can be mourned as part of the community, but to ensure that foul play is not in question (or the worst nightmare of all - being mistakenly buried alive: it has happened).

So I'm a great champion of the Irish way of death, which I regard as comforting and civilised; and I'm somewhat surprised by a recent survey which found that people in Ireland today feel that attitudes to death aren't honest and open enough. An increasing number of people - now at 57pc, previously at 51pc - say we don't discuss death and dying candidly. We should talk about it more. We should talk about how we want to die - we don't want to die alone (which makes Hold My Hand, I'm Dying a great title) and we'd really like to die at home, surrounded by those we love.

Maybe when people become more sexually liberated, they become correspondingly more inhibited about discussing death?

One of the biggest changes over the period of the last, say, 60 years, is that many people do not actually witness a death until they are well into adulthood: maybe not until their 40s. When life expectancy was shorter, even children were introduced to death at an early age. But as life expectancy increased - for which we are all glad, especially those of us who are edging nearer to the departure lounge - it also became, like everything else, more medicalised, and dying people were whisked away to the curtained corner of a hospital ward.

I was once in a London hospital ward - with a bout of pneumonia - when a patient died. A conjuring trick was performed with nurses and medics quickly drawing curtains, and with amazing speed and efficiency they somehow magicked the body out of the ward and into the morgue. As though death were, somehow, obscene.

The death survey which disclosed how we would like to die was all fine and dandy, and why shouldn't we specify just how we would like to leave this world? We're given "choice" in everything else now, so why not "choice" in death? Oh grand. But I'm not that confident that such wishes can always be realised. I still think that line from the New Testament is true and wise: "You know not the day nor the hour".

You can plan as much as you like (and yes, plan your funeral, otherwise your heirs and successors will be furious to be lumbered with the cost), but you don't know from one day to the next what might occur. I have too much experience of losing friends and family to death to take any other view: what happens, happens. Life takes us by surprise, and so, sometimes does death. A tremor in the hand heralds the onset of MS, an annoying back pain turns out to be spinal cancer, or a sepsis occurs during a wisdom tooth extraction - all cases I have known - and our "choices" are neither here nor there.

People have prayed for a happy death for aeons, so there's nothing new in hoping to have an easy passage, or even, probably, speeding up the final curtain. But I think it's tempting fate to announce that you are going to control the ending of your life. The wisest utterance that any politician ever made was Harold Macmillan's explanation of how big changes occur to human experience: "Events, dear boy, events". It's what we don't plan that socks us in the jaw.

We all hope to leave the stage gracefully, and like my young friend who worked abroad, "bas in Éireann" is, surely, a blessing to be wished, though it cannot always be chosen. November, month of memorials, is the time to reflect on it all.


Irish Independent


Finding My Reason and Turning My Face Towards the Sun

My husband died pretty suddenly, although it took him 5 days to do it. He was the picture of health, that is until the afternoon he had a massive cerebral hemorrage.


His departure left a vast empty space in my life, of course. Losing a spouse does that to everyone. In my case, it left a quarry size hole, as both of us were only children, and I have no children myself. I have little family left, and none of them are in the state. In other words, I was really alone.


We had just retired a year before, were just settling into our new home and new community. I hadn't worked for a paycheck for quite a while, as my job had been to provide care and oversight to our six elderly relations. We'd lost half of them, but I still had three to look after, even if it was from a distance. By the time we moved to our new state, even those three required less of me, as they'd all chosen to move to Seniors Independent Living communities.


When Pat died, I looked around to find a reason. I needed a reason to get up every day, a reason to go on living, a reason for taking up space. It didn't take long to find it.


Six weeks out, Easter arrived. I was still very raw. I spent the entire day alone. No one thought to ask me to join them for Easter Dinner, no neighbors stopped by, no old friends from home called, none of my family phoned. I was completely on my own. Church was more effort than I could muster. I spent the day alternating between curling up in bed with my dogs, and sitting out on my patio steps facing the lake out back.


While I was there, I recalled memories of my family, already gone. My husband, of course, who was widowed when we met, my grandfather, also a widower, my two grandmothers, each of whom had been widowed twice, and I thought of my cousin, still living, who lost a husband to suicide and a grown daughter to an embolism. Every one of them talked to me. Every one of them provided me with an example of how to carry loss with grace and dignity. What they said to me was "Get up, get up....You have work to do!"  And I did.


It was that day that propelled me on the path of reaching out to other widows and widowers. It was that day that I realized that I couldn't be the only one who was so alone. It was that day that I started my first local club for widows and widowers. The path has taken some interesting turns in these past three years. I've come to places and grown in ways I could never have imagined. It's my belief that God spoke to me through my family memories, sending me my reason. It was late in that afternoon that the sun came out, and I turned toward it.


Not everybody is meant to have the same reason, but I believe that everybody has one. What's yours?  If you don't know, I urge you to spend some time, as much time as it takes, in quiet contemplation and ask that very question. We all need a reason to go on, none more so than those of us who feel like we've lost our everything. Find your reason.



!!! Surprise !!!

I love to be somebody who knows how.


My husband knew how. 


I've always been a supremely independent lady, sometimes to my detriment. Used to making decisions, used to taking action, it's hard to surprise me.

But like everyone else. I love to be pleasantly surprised. I miss that. I miss that a lot.


There are people dear to me who remember my birthday, remember me at Christmas. I even have a very dear friend who surprises me out of the blue sometimes.

I'm grateful for those surprises and very grateful to those people. 


There's just no substitute, though, for someone who knows you better than you know yourself...who can surprise you.


Surprise! I miss you! 





See more about the widowed path @ and @ the blog on






Be Relentlessly Helpful

I remember those early days, those utterly lost days, those days of complete bewilderment about how I was to survive my loss.

I found a way.

I found the more that I reached out to help others, the more healing ocurred within me. Get out of your own sorrow, get out of your own way. You may find that when you make the effort to help someone, you are the one that is helped.

For addtional helps, these two books will help:
 The Widow or Widower Next Door
Grief Diaries: Loss of a Spouse 


Nancy Reagan on Grief

Nancy Reagan, at age 88 in an interview:

"She still has that great big sexy laugh, and she laughed a lot during our talks, though at times it seemed slightly forced, as if she were masking a deep-down sadness. “I miss Ronnie a lot, an awful lot,” she told me more than once. “People say it gets better. No, it does not.” Does she ever feel like giving up? “No. Ronnie wouldn’t like that"


Doesn't that sum it up so well?  No, it does not get better, not really. It's like I have a hollow core. I function, I go about my day and I have my mission. Some days, I'm even really productive, but at the core of me, there's an emptiness, a hollowness that no one else and nothing else can fill. I've come to accept that it will aways be there. Just like Mrs. Reagan, we didn't break up. And so I don't give up. My husband wouldn't like that either.


Rest in peace, Mrs. Reagan. .




Deja' Vu


I had an unusual experience last night.

I walked into Chinese carryout across the main road to get some dinner.

While I was ordering, an elderly gentleman of 87 years commenced having a stroke. Did what I could to help, which was damn little, until the EMT's came. Offered to drive the Mrs. to the hospital. Elderly also, but independent as she's a retired nurse, she declined my offer.

I'm no expert, but judging by the severity of his symptoms, I was pretty sure she'd be joining our club that nobody wants to join soon.

A little later, I rode over and go to the ER desk to leave a note for her, to tell her the offer for a ride still stands. She had a long night ahead of her. So many people here don't have family close by, as I live in a retirement destination city.

I don't think the gentleman made it. There was no record of him, by name, in the computer system. After a few minutes, the clerk asked me his age and said she knew who I meant. She promised me the wife would get my note.

Please say a little prayer for him, for her, and while you're at it, for me. I've seen too much death. I was fairly numb, as I was when my husband had his stroke. I finished my dinner and went about my business. At the same time, my heart goes out to her, on such a spiritual level.

Still pondering why I was in that place at that time.


PS- I checked our local paper; the gentleman in question did not survive.


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