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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