After Loss Don’t Skip Steps

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Judi, a psychic I have known for about 30 years, recently told me my Life Purpose was to share my experiences as a wife who became a widow.

At first this felt heavy. I thought, “In some cultures I would be relegated to wearing black clothes in perpetuity,” however being a native New Yorker the majority of my wardrobe is black so no big deal there. It’s the other part, the being the Widow, with a capital “W” that means being in mourning forever.

This being a widow thing is very tricky. It’s been less than two years and I still miss Mark, and I have had to work on myself, my broken heart everyday to get through this. I make a daily choice to be open, grateful and loving especially when I want to feel sorry for myself.

I lived half of my life with Mark. He will always be in my heart. Most times I want him to walk through the door. Often I feel like he is guiding me, some days more than others, I know his energy is there, it’s like a whisper like in the Kundalini yoga chant, SA TA NA MA.

In life Mark was subtle about things.  He did not make big noises he disliked showing off. Mark did things well and quietly on this side so he would not be loud and noisy on the other side.

Oddly, when I gave up the constant longing to have him come back, I could sense him much more. He would come to me in my dreams which until he died, I never remembered. Giving up the longing the wishing, the begging and bargaining to get him back took a lot of work on my part. The truth is I am unable to let go of Mark. He’s my guy, always and forever even though he told me to find another one. Perhaps one day I will but I have realized I cannot skip steps. I must find me all over again first. Who am I now without Mark? He was very specific. He said, “Be happy” The question for me now is what does that mean?

To say I am an expert at this would be untrue but if what I write here helps you that is a good thing. Mark died less than two years ago and it took me a while to scrape myself up off the floor. I have to keep going but the big question is how?

When Mark first died, I wanted to do the same because I wanted to be with him. But that passed. When I went to a bereavement group I discovered that the way I felt, others felt the same way. Being understood does help. It is important to take the time to grieve and go through the mourning. There are no shortcuts and it is okay to be sad for as long as you need to. It’s when it turns to complete depression and you become unable to function, that is a danger sign. Pay attention to how you are

A daily cry is cleansing. Yes, I do have a daily cry. Right after Mark died I couldn’t cry. I felt as if I was a block of frozen peas. I felt nothing except stunned.

People commented on how “calm” and “collected” I was. While I am not one for public displays of tears,  I couldn’t have cried if I wanted to, I was frozen solid.

In my bereavement group we looked at what are commonly known as “grief triggers” and to find ways to avoid them. For some people this may work but I think it is just kicking the can down the road.

My point of view is different. I come down on the side of running right at the grief. That by facing the intense sorrow I can go on for another moment, and then another and another. This is not an easy thing to do. What I discovered was the deeper I stepped into the places that hurt, my heart heals just a teeny  bit. I sought the tears. I sought the hurt and pain of missing Mark. I remember how lucky having been married to Mark. How blessed to be  in  a family that cares about me. How fortunate to have many loving friends. And to have my beautiful dog Clinton by my side, he makes me go out and take long walks.

Some people never get any of that. Still I wanted him back.

Another thing I learned in bereavement group was about his “stuff” Some of the women in the group said, “Get rid of his clothes right away they will remind you of him.”

I am pretty sure they were sorry later. My way of looking at his belongings was “please remind me of him,” and  I spent many hours sitting on the floor of his closet in tears.

While this may sound a bit dramatic, I felt a connection to him and to the memories that went along with each article of clothing. The grey chalk stripe suit from Barney’s reminded me of the day we went to Barney’s big warehouse sale. I could see his handsome face, his shiny black hair and how good he looked in that suit. On the shelf above my head, his perfectly polished black Frye dress boots, his well worn jeans with the ripped knee, the nearly threadbare Maverick denim jacket he used as a pillow on the cross-country trip he took in his tan Volkswagen square-back, his freshly washed hoodies that he wore to warm up after roller skating.

How could I let them go?

One day after a year had passed I donated some of his best suits, blazers, dress pants and shirts to a charity that helps men get interview ready. Mark’s suits were like new because he was very particular, bordering on fussy, about his clothes. Mark’s impeccably good-looking suits would help someone to possibly get the job they wanted and in some way Mark’s generosity and kindness would live on.

One item Mark’s soft, green terry cloth bathrobe that I bought him for his birthday so many years ago is a cherished possession. I wear it as my own, softened to just the right degree of cozy comfort, his spicy vanilla scent still lingers ever so slightly so that I can catch a gentle whiff of him.

When I was in the frozen food state, I thought, “Something has to be done about this, it just cannot be healthy to live this way” I was concerned I would get sick if I didn’t start to release the pain in some way. This widow thing was not easy.

I began watching movies. I couldn’t sleep anyway, I didn’t want to. Sleeping was too sad, without Mark.  I settled into my cozy couch with my soft, fleecy, blanket armed with a box of tissues and a glass of chardonnay. My best buddy Clinton my big sweet gentle, handsome,  brown rescue dog was at my feet. I flicked on the television. I started my search for just the right film to begin the big defrost. My gut told me that if I could start to cry, I would eventually be okay. Here are just a few that were good for a cry.

It started with “The Notebook” with Rachel McAdams, Ryan Gosling, James Garner and Gena Rowlands. One night I turned to STARZ romance and I hit pay dirt: the ultimate tear-jerker, chick flick, heart-breaking love story. I could not believe my good fortune. Corny,yes. Trite, for sure but it helped. From there, I began my daily, nightly search for movies to help me mourn, to be as miserable and tearful as possible. The movies made me face what my life as it is now, sad, tearful feeling a little lost. They were also transporting.

Next up was “Hope Springs” with Meryl Streep and Tommy Lee Jones. Mark and I had our struggles in our marriage and like the couple in the movie we overcame them.    When Tommy Lee Jones plays Al Green’s version of “Let’s Stay Together”, I fall to pieces, crying loudly.

Loved it! I downloaded the song from  iTunes so I could access that sadness again and let it rip when I need to. Music is on the grief trigger hit list so I made it my business to create a playlist that would get me started. I just had to make sure I wasn’t driving or I would have to pull over. Now, when I hear a song that helps me to get access to my grief I add it to my playlist. Movies and music: a perfect combination for getting through the sorrow and finding a way to little moments of happiness again.

“Love Actually” starring Hugh Grant, Emma Thompson, Laura Linney Alan Rickman, Colin Firth, Bill Nighy Liam Neeson that has many moments in it for a good cry, especially the closing scene over-dubbed with the Beach Boys, “God Only Knows What I’d be Without You” The song went on my playlist.

Here’s what I have learned. Don’t skip steps. Get help with the grief and the mourning. If you think you can do it alone, you cannot. Find help, that really helps you.  I practice yoga, I meditate and often cry my way through to feeling okay again. When I meditate I can connect with Mark and let him know I am okay. And I am in a community of people I care about who knew Mark and know me.

I went to two rounds of a bereavement group, worked with a bereavement counselor on the phone and met with the same therapist that Mark and I went to when we hit some rough patches along the way. Seeing our shrink from years ago has been a real gift for me mostly because she knew him and I could talk about him once a week for 50 minutes non-stop if I needed to, how else was I going to move through this?

Mark was relatively young, handsome, vibrant, never sick and then diagnosed with a nasty cancer and now dead.

No amount of anything is preparation for that. But the sun will come out tomorrow. I might as well be ready for it.

Love and light to you. Nancy

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Look for the quiet

Look for the quiet

 

It seems as if everyday I start out by saying, “I am going to write a blog post today. One blog post would be good. Five would be excellent. “ But I have shut myself up for some reason.   Time has come today  to let it go and get writing again. I think all that singing “Let it go, let it go!” May have helped. I now think I am Elsa with a new hot dress because, “the cold doesn’t bother me anyway.”

 

Once I get going I am a pretty fast writer, sometimes amusing or touching or something even complain-y.

 

It’s the getting started. I put a variety of mental and physical obstacles in my way and then on top of that I have so many distractions and reasons for not sitting my butt down onto my Balance Ball chair.th-9

Then by the time I  decided get to it I am too drained to do anything but play around with Facebook or post tweets from other blogs, and the New York Times online, that I then call “doing something” when I know it only sort-of is doing something.

 

Today is perfect. Sunday July 6, for a change, there are no leaf blowers-no lawnmowers-the endless noises that drive me back indoors –just yet.

 

Today I can sit on my screen porch with Clinton and write this. Is this the day I un-stick myself from whatever it was that was stopping me? I sure hope so because my blog could use a refresh and my memoir is gathering virtual dust waiting for me to get moving again.

And there is this: I am going to something called Wordcamp in August in Brooklyn and I would love to add some new posts to my personal blog so that I have something to talk about when I find someone to talk to about whatever it is I am going to learn.  After re-reading mine I couldn’t help but notice that the writing classes I have taken have helped some.  But in writing (as in life) practice make perfect practice and it’s time to up my game.  I was accepted to a Writing Yoga retreat when I submitted work I completed in my Advanced Memoir class. Only trouble is I haven’t gone near it in a while.

The memoir is about Mark and me and everytime I go to write something I end up like the Diane Keaton character in “Somethings Gotta Give” when she wrote her smash hit play – crying all over her laptop. Difference is her guy was still alive, mine is dead-she gets another chance. Mine with him are only in my dreams. But the thing is I gotta do it. Something’s gotta give for me too. I can only find the quiet in my life when I write down how it was with Mark and me. We had many adventures and sometimes life was like riding the Cyclone in Coney Island. But I would do it all again if I could. The only way I can is to write it all down.

So here I am on my porch. On a day when it is quiet. Warming myself back up to writing again.  My brother told me recently the only way you are a writer is if you write something without caring if someone reads it. At the time I couldn’t decide if that was helpful or not but it sure got me moving.

One thing we need more of in our busy, noisy message-ladednworld is bit of quiet space and places for reflection.

I am most grateful that is happening on my screen porch today.

This is my warm –up.

 

Enjoy your day. Love. N

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Big Egg Hunt NYC

Originally posted on :

#TheBigEggHuntNY, Faberge Eggs painted by over 200 artists and hidden around NYC, Spring 2014, public art #TheBigEggHuntNY, Faberge Eggs painted by over 200 artists and hidden around NYC, Spring 2014, public art #TheBigEggHuntNY, Faberge Eggs painted by over 200 artists and hidden around NYC, Spring 2014, public art #TheBigEggHuntNY, Faberge Eggs painted by over 200 artists and hidden around NYC, Spring 2014, public art Reminiscent of the summer of 2000 when The Cow Parade hit the streets of NYC—we were huge fans, having set out on the mission to find all the cows and photograph ourselves with our favorites, pre-social media era, just for our own pleasure…imagine that!— this April the city has kicked off The Big Egg Hunt NY with close to 300 eggs “hidden” around town that Fabergé commissioned artists, designers, and architects to paint, or create their own, all in the name of charity. The participants are an impressive bunch, from artists such as Jeff Koons and Julian Schnabel , to architects Zaha Hadid and Morphosis , to graphic designer Debbie Millman , fashion designers including Cynthia Rowley and Diane Von Furstenberg, and, of course, street artists: Dain , Cost , Faus t and plenty more. Unlike the cows at the beginning of the century, the eggs can be tracked via

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People are funny.

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Was so excited when I turned the page on my wall calendar to March and saw that daylight savings time begins on Sunday March 9th.

For those of us in the east for whom it has been a long, cold lonely winter I thought, “good news daylight savings time is coming!”
Days will be longer, brighter, more people outside and less gray days.

I thought when I mentioned this on one of my daily walks with Clinton that others would be happy to hear this news.
After hearing so much complaining about the dreary days we have had I was excited to share the good news. Longer days ahead. Time to celebrate we made it through.
To my surprise first words for several were I met were these ,”oh that means we lose an hour of sleep ugh.”

Hey, I thought look at the trade. One lost hour of sleep, one season of brighter days ahead. Funny, my yogi friends all got it even those with small children who are already sleep deprived, they saw the gift of the coming season of light.

Thank goodness.0

Here comes the SUN.

Lady Mary Crawley and me

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I never thought I would see the day when I have something in common with a member of the British aristocracy. The PBS hit series, Downton Abbey season 3 finale changed all that for me.  SPOILER ALERT IF YOU HAVE NEVER WATCHED STOP HERE.

Last season when Lady Mary Crawley’s  (Michelle Dockery) beloved (handsome, charming) husband Matthew Crawley (Dan Stevens)  was killed in a car crash just when things were going so well- -I, along with millions of other viewers was knocked off my comfy sofa and spilled my biscuits and tea.

At the close of season 3 I had recently been cast in a new role in my life: Widow.  I was rooting for Lady Mary and Matthew to live happily ever after so that I could live vicariously through them and cry my eyes out at what I missed and then “boom” Lady Mary becomes a widow too.

I burst into tears and wailed,  “Oh no, not Matthew and “oh no, I miss Mark”. Matthew is a fictional character, I cried for him like I do over Mark.   

It took Matthew and Lady Mary six years of running the obstacle course of life to get married. The newlywed Crawley’s had one year of wedded bliss and the happy birth of her infant son George.  Matthew will never see his son grow up to be a man. A careless automobile accident took his life, (along with Dan Stevens desire to go work in film and on other projects)

Mark and I were married for 26 years and it took us under 3 years to get married. Like the Crawley’s who lived under the same roof at Downtown-before they were married, we lived together in a floor-through apartment in Park Slope before we got married.

Lady Mary and Matthew had a big wedding ceremony and party at Downton-Mark and I got married in a castle- like synagogue in Park Slope built around the same time that Downtown is set in. We had an intimate family dinner on Prospect Park West then we rushed off. to Shea Stadium to the 1986 World Series to catch the end of the 7th game when the Mets beat the Boston Red Sox sharing a box with Billy Joel and Christie Brinkley and the Mets’ wives.

Both Lady Mary and I wore off white instead of pure white.  I had been married before and Lady Mary did have that Turkish incident that despoiled her purity so to speak.

In the two-hour 4th season premiere of Downtown Abbey- Lady Mary is a young widow who has lost her true love or as Lord Grantham says, “When there is a great love and great loss it takes a great effort to recover. “

“I hear you your Lordship,” I said aloud. Tissue-box in hand. The episode had just started and I was already crying. Lady Mary is in the Widows club – the one no one wants to be in.

Now, Lady Mary and I are like sisters we are in the same “hood” know as “the widow-hood”.  I really feel her pain. Though she is a fictional character, in an English soap opera, younger than me,  residing in the early part of the 20th century in a country estate; I know I could sit down with Lady Mary at tea-time and we would be kindred spirits.

Widows “get” other widows. We know that time only ‘sort of’ heals the loss of a husband or wife. And grief is tricky there really isn’t a right way or time limit on how long you may be sad and miss the one you love. 

When season 4 opens for Lady Mary, only 6 months time has passed since Matthew was so abruptly ripped from her life just as they are (finally!) getting started, she is grief-stricken and mostly non-functional.

At 6 months the reality of loss hit me hard: Mark is not coming back, not walking through the door again. Absurd that I thought he might. There were moments I expected him to walk into the room like when the President was re-elected. I even jumped up and called out to him. But he didn’t show up.  I wasn’t sure whether to laugh at myself or cry right then so I did both.

In our modern American culture 6 months is just the time some people drop away from your life. Even though you might be barely ready to crawl, someone has to take care of the day to day running of the household.

(Luckily, my hubby set me up so I had a clue what was going on.  And, I have an amazing family and dear friends. )

Even so, this is where it is Advantage: Lady Mary.

In Lady Mary’s world her family lives at Downton Abbey and others are there with great regularity.  Even her desperately bereaved mother-in-law and fellow widow,  Isobel Crawley (Penelope Wilton) is nearby and is ever so slowly starting to join the family again even in her sorrow and her disapproval of Lady Mary’s moving forward.

In Lady Mary’s world, there is a large and organized household staff to take care of the details of her life.  Lady Mary does not find herself plodding through reams of paperwork, having to do the laundry, remember to feed herself something healthy and try to get some sleep at a time of great confusion and even misery.

Thankfully there is taskrabbit.com, I have hired a “rabbit” or two to come and help me with organizing tasks too difficult for me to handle alone.

Lady Mary is sad and in shock. She had a life ahead of her with beloved. It is all she can do to sip tea from her breakfast tray and let her ladies maid Anna (Joanna Froggatt) dress her, “Only the black please,” and fix her hair.

How many times have I said to myself, “I would love to have a ladies maid right about now, she could help me pick out the best Spanx for my outfit, zip up my dress and help me with the clasp on a necklace.”  Mark used to help me with the latter two.

And how about Mrs. Patmore, (Lesley Nichol) and her kitchen staff. I do not love cooking and doing the dishes without Mark.   Mark was one of those rare men who liked to cook with me then do the dishes and even clean the floors with the Swiffer wet jet. I was spoiled. 

A friend once said, “Mark does all that? That’s better than foreplay!”

The great debate swirling around Lady Mary is whether it is time to get on with it.

Sir Paul McCartney described the English way of dealing with death after John Lennon was murdered, “Buck up man, stiff upper lip,keep calm and carry on.”

Easy to say;  very hard to do.  When you lose someone you love a spouse, a partner, the love of your life how do you “carry on” when all your hopes and dreams have died?

Lady Mary has a beautiful son. She is lucky that she has him- a gift from her beloved Matthew that she can raise him if she chooses, to have his kindness and values.  And yet she feels so sorry for herself that she calls him “poor little orphan” when in fact he has a large  loving family, a fortune he is heir to and a mother who is not quite ready to step forward and love him.  Lucky for her, she has a full-time nanny, except as it turns out she is a mean, nasty woman who ultimately gets the boot. A replacement will be found I am sure of this.

I just hope Lady Mary doesn’t make the mistake of getting involved too early on in a relationship she is not ready for. Widows have a hard time making well thought out clear decisions, quite often unsuitable suitors do come along who may not have your best interests at heart. And it seems they will be lining up.
Lady Mary is rich, young, beautiful and vulnerable and there are men out there who want to gain her affections to get their hands on her fortune.

Here’ s where I have the edge:  in Lady Mary’s world there are no bereavement groups, grief counselors or therapists, no yoga classes or meditation groups to help her find her way, express her grief and just be able to live into the sorrow.  Just by doing all those things I can get dressed, put on my lipstick and go outside and find the joy in life.

For Lady Mary her biggest ally and supporter is her grandmother, the Countess Dowager Violet (Dame Maggie Smith) and it could be her widower brother in law Tom (Allan Leech) if he would give up the idea that he doesn’t belong and count his lucky stars he got to move upstairs and join the family.

I am rooting for Lady Mary to find her way, though I am pretty sure there is going to be a lot of drama along the way.  There are more stories upstairs and down and you need a score-card to keep track of who is whom.

So stay tuned and I will keep my tissue box handy.

For a complete episode recap of Downton Abbey’s season premiere check out what my friend Diane Clehane has to say at dianeclehane.com.

 

 

Love on four legs

English: George Clooney at the 2009 Venice Fil...

English: George Clooney at the 2009 Venice Film Festival (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

On our daily morning walks Clinton and I often meet people who “gush” over my beautiful boy. One day it was like this: the baby with his strawberry blonde curls and saucer blue eyes sees us as we approach his house. Mom is unloading the SUV they just drove up and yet takes a moment when she sees how her baby wiggles and giggles with delight at the sight of Clinton.
Clinton my auburn-haired sleek golden eyed chocolate lab-pointer hybrid rescue dog is not just the “George Clooney” of dogs in looks, he is sweet, gentle and loves people.

The baby now held in his mother’s arms is reaching reaching his tiny white hands for Clinton- his face leaning spilling over his mothers’ arms. My gentle boy turns him self so that the baby can stroke his velvet ears.

The baby squeals with delight. Clinton lies down and mom lets the baby stroke Clinton’s soft fur for a few moments.

Clinton is ready to press on with his walk and mom and baby have a busy day ahead.

As we start to leave, the baby, disappointed, starts to cry and we promise to come back another day.

That is is the gift of my beautiful Clinton we meet people everywhere we go. He is handsome and well mannered and when loneliness comes creeping in – when I am missing Mark- Clinton comes to me and with a poke of his wet brown nose, a paw that says “lets go”- we have another adventure making new friends.

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