Widow Wednesday #9

Widow Wednesday

Welcome to Widow(er) Wednesday, where I share what worked, what didn’t work and what could work better.

How to support the grieving: Accept that loss is a life-altering experience

Time is a social construct and created through thinking. Grieving is an act of the heart and does not understand what the brain is talking about. If we are to better support those who grieve we need to let go of the expectation that someone who has had a great loss will one day go back to being how they used to be. Losing a loved one is a life-changing event and like all other life-changing events it alters how we live in the world. We change when we become parents, fall in love, move countries or switch careers and no one expects us to go back to how we used to be before these things happened. If we could accept that the loss of a loved one is a life altering experience and expect that those who have lost a loved one will change and that it will be okay, then we would all be ahead of the game.

In Widow Wednesday #8 I reflected on how grief changes over time. This is both a hopeful reality and a fascinating phenomenon. In the early days it was unfathomable to me that loss could affect every aspect of my day to a degree I could never have imagined. Yet, somehow I walked through those days even if at times it felt more like crawling and more than once I had to pick myself off the floor to keep moving. Losing my husband changed me; it destroyed the story I’d written for my life and made me re-think about what was important to me. Consequently, I had to find a new to live. This was something I did not know would happen.

I thought that a day would come when my feelings of loss would simply and forever disappear completely. I would be healed and I would go back to living some slightly altered version of the life I lived before. I had to learn that there is no such day and that I will never again be the person I once was. This is one of the hardest truths about loss.

This is the truth I refer to when I tell others we do not move on but move forward and that it takes time to learn how to incorporate our grief stories into our life stories. And that it can be no other way. None of this implies that a time will come when this process has an end point. I am cautious about revealing this truth to those who are grieving and in pain. Sometimes I do and sometimes I don’t. When I do, I acknowledge that loss and grief will come again (because in life it does) and that next time you will be less surprised and in some ways better prepared because now you know that this is possible. This has happened to me and to those I know who too have lost loved ones. It is a part of the changed me.

It will take time to change the misbelief that losing a loved one is not a life-altering experience, which is why it is so important that we start talking about it now. It would be a shame if the only way to learn this truth continues to be through losing someone we dearly love. Because then we will have failed to support those who grieve as well as we can. Surely, we are smart enough to begin by entertaining the possibility that this is true and hopefully one day we will all accept it as such.
Till next time,
Stay well,
Heike

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Looking for previous “Widow Wednesdays? Start here with Widow Wednesday #1
Buy Heike’s book “Grief is…” click here

To learn more about Heike (Author: “Grief is…”) click here

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Welcome New Year!

Welcome New Year

 
I know I am the sum of all my stories
I await the stories you will bring this year
 
I no longer wish for things to happen
I know the truly important things are beyond my control
 
I do commit to improving my life one word at a time
Last year’s word was health
I promised myself I wouldn’t do anything that I knew would create stress
in my body, my mind, my life
Stress begets poor health
 
I promised myself I would do things that supported my becoming healthier
(most of the time)
Good chocolate and ice cream can always be rationalized
They are after all good for my spiritual and mental health (antioxidants too)
 
Swimming more, laughing more and seeking out good company were all winning choices
So too was sitting quietly enough to listen to what my body needed, my mind required and my heart desired
The agreement to always put health first made it easier address conflicting wants
And surprisingly, brain has become less demanding when it comes to having coffee and in return stomach more forgiving overall
 
Together, the stories written are of successes
Even the failures
They are the ones that tell of my humanness and the value of falling short from time to time
They are the ones that taught me being kind and accepting my humanness supports my well-being
 
So as the old year gives way to the new I look forward to
Taking all my stories with me
The sad ones, the painful ones, the funny ones and the ones that leave me smiling and light
They are all the stories of my life to date and they will become part of the ongoing story that will be my life
Today, tomorrow and for a long I am fortunate enough to be here
 
Wishing you all a wonderful 2020 and the knowledge that yesterday’s stories become a part of the who we are, how we live today and what we will create tomorrow.

It is not a coincidence that healthy holds the word heal within it. It’s been a year of healing for me and I look forward to using what I’ve learned this past year in the years to come.

Stay well,
and if you’re in need of healing make supporting your health your deal breaker.
You’re worth it.

Looking for previous “Widow Wednesdays? Start here withWidow Wednesday #1
Buy Heike’s book “Grief is…” click here

To learn more about Heike (Author: “Grief is…”) click here

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Merry Christmas: Bah Humbug

A Christmas Carol with Alistair Sims – New Joy

Merry Christmas: Bah Humbug

The holidays are different after loss.
It cannot be otherwise.

Just as Christmas changed as we grew into adulthood
It must also change as we grow into life after loss
This takes time

Sometimes we yearn for the innocent excitement and joy of childhood
Sometimes we yearn for the innocent joy and merry making of life before loss
Both are places we can no longer visit
But we will always remember and hold them dear to our hearts

Let us heal enough to know a different joy awaits us
Perhaps tinged with a touch of sadness
And a pinch of melancholy
Yet, all the more precious now
Because it is still joy

Thinking of those today who are struggling as well as those who are healing. Be kind and patient with yourselves. Self-compassion is our birthright.
Wishing you all a very Merry Christmas!

Stay well, Heike

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Reach Out and Touch Faith

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Hand stamped metal bracelet by TourbillonDeLaVie (link below)

Last year at this time I wrote about Welcoming Grief At The Holidays and how that first Christmas good friends welcomed us into their home, accepted us as we were (broken and struggling) and helped us feel love and laughter on a very difficult day. This year I’m encouraging those who know of people who are on their own and those who are on their own to ‘reach out’ and make it a better day.

For those with family reaching out is a gesture of good will towards others; an opportunity to share one’s good fortune with those who would otherwise be alone. We used to open our home to folks who didn’t have plans. We thought about those we knew  who were single and we asked. It just made sense.

Reaching out for those who are on their own is an act of faith because when we ask to be included we are vulnerable. We touch faith with the hope that we will be welcomed. I’m lucky in that one of my friends comes from a family that opened their home to not only extended family but also the friends of their children on Christmas day. I spent more than one Christmas day in my youth hangin’ with the cousins and the aunties. My friend has continued this tradition and when he realized I would be on my own I was welcomed. I didn’t even have to ask, he did- just as we once had. From vulnerable to welcomed in seconds flat. 🙂

In a culture geared towards ‘coupling’ and on a holiday that screams ‘family’ (dysfunctional or not) admitting I was going to be on my own on the 25th sounded sort of ‘loser’ish. Of course, it isn’t. But, all the same if those with broods reached out to those on their own and those on their own let those with broods know what’s up I suspect more of us would spend the day with people who love us and whom we love. And that would be a grand thing. A grand Christmas thing.  So regardless of which side of the fence you’re sitting on go for it…Reach out, touch faith and share some holiday love.

If after that pseudo rousing call to action you still need a bit of encouragement to get the ball rolling here are three different versions of Depeche Mode’s Personal Jesus (Reach out and touch faith). Listen and reach out..

I love them all.

Depeche Mode (original) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u1xrNaTO1bI

Johnny Cash’s gospel cover https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qpYW3qng78E

Marilyn Manson’s cover https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Rl6fyhZ0G5E

Reach out and touch faith hand stamped bracelet available through etsy

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Looking for previous “Widow Wednesdays? Start here with Widow Wednesdays #1
Buy Heike’s book Grief is…

To learn more about Heike (Author: “Grief is…”) click here

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Widow Wednesday #8 The Changing Seasons of Learning to Live with Loss

Recently, I’ve been pulling writings from a series of notebooks and adding them into my second book file. In some weird way it’s fun. Not just the transferring of written ponderings, reflections and observations into book format but re-reading all the other scribbles that are non-book II related.

Today I came across some notes I’d made when I was trying to figure out the title for my first book “Grief is… Thoughts on loss, struggle and new beginnings.” My working title had been “Really?!? This is normal?” To me, it was the obvious choice because first, it was the question I repeatedly asked during those early days and secondly, because as it became increasingly clearer that what was going on in the weird world of grief was indeed considered ‘normal’ I adopted “This is normal!!!” as my opening statement anytime I felt compelled to explain what was going on to someone who hadn’t experienced a great loss.

I still like that original title but was advised by the publisher to put “Grief” directly into the title, which I obviously did. In many ways this makes sense, especially for a previously unpublished author. That doesn’t ‘mean I still don’t like my working title better, cause I do. Ah but I digress. Back to my book title brainstorming notes and a sample of my pseudo-brilliance (lol).

Potential book titles included:
“Disbelief and other absurdities of living with grief”
“The Grief filled life”
“When Grief moves in”
and …
“When Grief smacks you between the eyes and leaves you breathing but bleeding”.

When I read that last one I laughed out loud. Grief does do that to a person. It does smack you between the eyes and it hits really hard. It’s kind of a wallop. And you are left breathing; sometimes it may feel more like gasping for air, but all the same you are ‘still breathing.’ Does it wound you and do you feel as if you’re bleeding? Absolutely. And of course, because it’s not a flesh wound but lies deep within you, the wound is not apparent to many. But this is what it is and somehow it’s still funny. Oh well. That was how I felt and thought back then. And it was bang on. Fortunately, this is now and though the sentiment is still true, I’m not sure I could have come up with that potential title today. *

Here’s the great thing. Somehow my laughing out loud at grief smacking me between the eyes and leaving me breathing but bleeding has turned into my wanting to remind all those who are grieving that when you don’t have the words that others want to hear it’s okay to simply tell it like it is. Apparently, brutally honest can also be funny. Funny is good.

For those of you who find that words aren’t your thing and verbally expressing what you’re living with to others is in the “no way, not me” zone, then, I’m hoping you will find a non-verbal way to express your grief. Try drawing, painting, planting a garden, sculpting, writing a song, building a cabin in the woods, restoring an old car – find something that can both consume you and allow the sadness of your grief to flow out from you. If none of these ideas appeal to you I’d like to suggest Axe Throwing. Somehow or other axe throwing has becoming a culturally acceptable means of entertaining oneself. I’ve been meaning to try it myself. I think it could be cathartic. There is something about heaving a large axe with intention and focus and watching it hurl through the air that just sounds good to me. It’s as if in throwing the axe I would also be able to throw away all the anger and hurt that grief has brought to me.  I suspect there are many other similar activities that could work equally well. However, this is not my area of expertise so I will leave it to others to fill in the blanks or share their suggestions in the comments section below.

The point is that it isn’t important how we release our grief but that we do release it and that we do it in a non-harming way. ‘Breathing but bleeding’ captured it well for me. I am grateful that writing helps me make sense of the world. I find it very helpful and I especially like it when I get to laugh at myself. It’s even better when I get share my somewhat perverse sense of silliness with others. It’s all part of the healing process. Good luck. I know you will find your way, axe throwing or otherwise.

Till next time,
Stay well,
Heike

* In case you’re wondering my sense of humour, though less raw, remains a bit dark and twisted and I have to admit I like it like that. Oh well. This is now.

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Looking for previous “Widow Wednesdays? Start here with Widow Wednesday #1
Buy Heike’s book “Grief is…” click here

To learn more about Heike (Author: “Grief is…”) click here

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It’s Giving Tuesday!

Giving Tuesday, the day I get to give to my favourite organizations (University of Waterloo) and charities (Toronto Hospice, War Amps, etc.) and double the value of my gift. Hooray!

It’s such a nice way to support things like Richard’s Memorial Scholarship and to thank those who make other’s lives easier and encourage them to keep on doing so. I am grateful to be able to support them now and to help them continue their work rather than wait until I’m dead. Who knows what the world will look like then? I’d rather give a little today with the hope that these programs continue to exist. They make living in Canada a whole lot greater.

Don’t just think about opening your wallet to donate. Melt that credit card a wee bit TODAY and double your impact. Help me help others to keep on building our community. We all know we will be melting that darn piece of plastic soon enough for other reasons.

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Looking for previous “Widow Wednesdays? Start here with Widow Wednesday #1

Buy Heike’s book “Grief is…” click here

To learn more about Heike (Author: “Grief is…”) click here

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Widow Wednesday #7

Widow Wednesday #7
Welcome to Widow(er) Wednesdays where I share what worked, what didn’t work and what could work better when it comes to supporting the grieving. This week’s taboo busting blog is as much for those looking to better support loved ones who are grieving as it is for those who are grieving. This week’s taboo topic is GRIEF COUNSELLING.

Oh, no! Anything but that! No one is going to make me sit in a circle with a bunch of whining crying weak people who can’t handle what happened to them; After all it didn’t really happen to them – they’re still here. They should be grateful and be glad to be alive. I know I am. And don’t even bother suggesting one on one counselling. What would be the point in re-hashing what I know went down? I have no interest in discussing ‘that’ with some overly sympathetic social worker who is going to sit there feeling sorry for me the whole time just waiting for me to break down. It just ain’t going to happen. I don’t do that sort of thing. I can deal with the estate stuff or hire someone else to do it. I’m going to get on with my life. I can’t change what happened. I’ve put my life on hold long enough. I need to focus on the future now and not the past.

Ha, ha, ha, ha. It’s always good to laugh at oneself and make no doubt about it I said every one of those things to myself as well as to others. I am strong. I am formidable. I am not going to let this break me. Ha, ha, ha. The joke was on me because it already had. My brain just wasn’t willing to accept this ugly truth; my brain was… in denial. The real truth was that I was terrified of having to talk about what went down. It was so horrific at times that I wanted to never have to talk about it. I wanted to forget any of it had happened and to maybe somehow manage to pretend it hadn’t happen. Mostly, I wanted to get back to leading a ‘normal’ life.

Caring for loved ones with cancer was painful and scary beyond anything I could have imagined. It was knowledge I could have gladly lived without. Watching my loved ones die…well, that’s a whole other kind of bizarre that is so complicated that trying to explain it in a blog would be an exercise in futility. I’d fail.

So back to grief counselling. Everyone who has had a major loss should do some grief counselling and here is why. First off, because we are not taught about grief we have a limited societal knowledge of what it means to grieve and therefore, we do a poor job of supporting those who grieve (and most of us are willing to admit this). In addition, when we grieve we spend our days in places, doing things that for others are unchanged thereby creating the false impression that we too are unchanged and everything is back to ‘business as normal’. But grief changes us and the people who once understood us best in many ways no longer know us at all. This is bewildering especially since our goal is to fit back in. Try as we might it’s not possible to squeeze ourselves into the people we were before our major loss. When we fail at doing so we end up feeling unsupported and alone – like no one really understands. This is no one’s fault. As already pointed out, as a society, we do not really understand what it means to grieve. But grief counsellors (as well as others who are grieving) do understand.  Grief counselling (group and one on one) gives us a place to not be alone, to untangle what went down and what it means to us. Grief counsellors support us in re-defining ‘fitting in’ and help us figure out how to move forward. Sometimes they give us tools to help others better understand what living with loss looks like.

The second reason is simply that life, school, and work do not teach us, as individuals, the skills to untangle the emotional mess that is grief. We know of no clear starting point, we see no clear path, no one solution or even a list of solutions that will result in the resolution or curing of our grief. To untangle grief and learn how to absorb it into the business of living requires someone holding space or creating a safe space for us to explore what loss means (because it does mean something). This is where healing begins. Friends and family are great but I’ve yet to meet anyone as effective or capable of doing this as a qualified grief counsellor(secular or otherwise). Grief feels so ‘not’ normal that without grief counselling we walk through our days believing no one else could feel this way (not true) and that what is happening to us is unique (also not true) and that we are weak because we cannot simply snap out of it or move on already (MOST DEFINITELY NOT TRUE).

Distraction is good and trying to get back to our everyday lives is helpful (see Widow Wednesday #6) but to live fully (which we all want to do) we have to live a life true to all of our experiences and knowledge. Incorporating the good stuff is easy: incorporating the hard stuff is something we have to learn. The woman who convinced me to go to grief counselling told me she’d gone to a program that was more like school. The facilitator shared knowledge with the group. It was technical. She liked school. She was a lifelong learner. This I understood and so rather than continue to wander around my quiet house not really being present I made the call. It was the smart thing to do. After all, ‘the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.’ Grief is not insanity. It is simply grief. But, until we can begin untangling it we will do the same thing over and over again and we will not heal. We need to learn how to live a life that makes sense with what we now know to be true.

I suspect that even after we become more socially aware of what it is like to grieve and we get better at supporting those we love who are grieving that we will still need grief counsellors. It’s a relief to find someone who understands, listens and helps us to find our way forward. It’s about healing.
Till next time,
Stay well,
Heike

P.S. My short doc on grief will be screened on Saturday November 23rd as part of Silver Shorts at the Revue Cinema.
Tickets are available at Eventbrite or at the door. This is a donation pay what you can event. If you can’t make it don’t worry, I’ll be sharing it on my website as soon as possible.

Looking for previous “Widow Wednesdays? Start here withWidow Wednesday #1
Buy Heike’s book “Grief is…” click here

To learn more about Heike (Author: “Grief is…”) click here

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