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,

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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I remember…

source: telegraph.co.uk

I remember…
War, Veterans and Remembrance Day

I remember being 5 years old and learning about Remembrance Day in school.
I remember feeling glad that I could remember my Opa whom I never knew
Because he died from his wounds during the war

I remember being told by a classmate I was stupid
Remembrance Day was only for Canadian soldiers
My Opa was a bad guy
He fought for his country of birth

I was sad
I asked my mom
She said it was true my Opa fought for Germany
It was a terrible war
Many died.
I learned to stay quiet

I remember my dad telling me that he was welcome at the legion
I was stunned
Surely he was a bad guy too
He also fought for Germany during the war

He explained
No one wanted to go to war.
We were all young men.
We all lost friends and family.
At the legion everyone is a veteran and we all understand.
Oh, I thought.
Maybe not everyone, but certainly more than I’d realized
Certainly more than my classmate in Kindergarten realized

I remember past conversations with veterans
They changed how I think about war
They agreed with my dad
They taught me “that anytime you’re in the military and someone is shooting at you and you live to tell you’re a veteran.”
Yup, put that way it makes perfect sense.

On Remembrance Day I now remember
The Canadian soldiers who fought so I could live the life I so appreciate here in Canada
I remember all the soldiers who fought and lived to tell
I remember all the men, women and children who are still fighting

I remember
So many died
So many still die

I pray for peace and I remember

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

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

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

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Tylenol is not a long term solution :(

“There is more wisdom in your body than in your deepest philosophy.”

~ Frederich Nietzsche~

It is a challenge to live with intention and not out of habit. It requires that I look at my situation, my body and my health and rather than dismiss their rumblings, take a deep breath, sit still and listen.  Only then can I see clearly what I must do next to heal. It helps to learn from others who have lived through similar injuries. But, when this is not possible or their solutions do not work for me, it is essential that I drown out my mind’s deeply ingrained habitual messages.  Instead I must set out to intentionally create new ways of living that will support my well being and enable me to thrive, regardless of how far this veers from what ‘has always worked in the past.’  Surviving and pushing through despite the pain is not the better option. Change, the more challenging choice, is. I almost added the word ‘unfortunately’ to that last sentence. But, this would be incorrect. I know I am fortunate to be able to make the choice to heed my body’s wisdom.

I work to remember Tylenol is not a long term solution.


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

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

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Widow Wednesday #6

Widow Wednesday #6

Welcome to Widow(er) Wednesdays. A new way for me to share what worked, what didn’t work and what could work better. One of the things that helps us heal is letting go of misbeliefs or calling them what they are (just plain wrong).  This week I tackle the misbelief that “If you work hard enough at doing everyday things you will be able to end your grief.”

There is this misbelief that staying busy, going out, returning to work, buying a new car and even dating someone new are all signs that we are healing and moving on with our life. But, in many cases, they are simply actions used to break the powerful hold that grief has on us. They may bring temporary relief but they are not indicators that one is healed.

Don’t get me wrong. Keeping busy is not a bad idea. Keeping busy can be helpful at times. Everyone needs distraction now and then. But, keeping busy, especially in the early days is really about staying distracted. Distraction gives us a break from the very real, very hard work of healing after loss.

So let’s call ‘keeping busy’ what it is. A tool to help us stay sane while we physically heal enough to regain sufficient energy to figure out how to incorporate the lessons of loss into our souls and move forward with our lives: lives that often look very different than the lives we used to live. Why? Because we need to bring all of our memories and experiences with us if we are to create a new way of living that makes sense to us. This requires a lot of trial and error and creativity. It can also take a lot of time.

But, that does not mean that we should not work to build good things into our lives, even if in the early days, they are simply acts of distraction. Distraction can be an act of self-care. So, whenever necessary, feel free to indulge in the distraction of keeping busy. I encourage you to schedule in distractions such as walks in nature, massages and tea or drinks with friends. Yes, stay busy and add some healthy distractions into the chaos that is grief, even if you need to indulge in some less than healthy ones too. Remember I’m the gal who gained back weight lost during my husband’s illness by eating mostly fudgsicles and drinking red wine. AND please let go of the notion that you can end grief through purposeful action (a.k.a. staying busy) and crush the idea that staying busy means we are healed. Worry less that others haven’t a clue that it’s a much longer and harder process than anyone could imagine. And know that you will build yourself a new life in your own damn sweet time.

Till next time,

Stay well,


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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Hmmm… Questions I ask before I vote

source: depositphotos.com

We vote for all kinds of reasons. We vote to support a candidate, we vote for the policies of a particular party, we vote because we like the leader of a party and sometimes we vote to stop particular candidates, parties and their leaders. Is one reason more valid than another? I don’t know.

I do know that sometimes there is a fine line between acknowledging reality and making a conscientious decision as opposed to going along with popular opinion and letting fear dictate your way. And this is why before I vote I step back and think about what kind of city, province, country and even world is it that I want to live in, to take part in, to grow old in?  And then I look to see which of the policies by which of the parties running comes closest to my ideal. Because we all know, that my ideal, is simply that… an ideal. But, I’d rather choose to create my own ideal to measure others by than settle for what is being offered. It gives me something to work towards and raises my expectations. It’s a good thing.

So what do I want? I want a party that is serious about climate change. I’ve watched what has been happening to our planet for decades now, and I do think it’s time we re-thought our strategy: there really is no Plan(et) B.

I want a progressive economic platform that ensures we continue to invest in new technologies and people. We need a progressive growing economy.

I want people to be treated as I like to be treated. This means things like having clean water, clean air, knowing what’s in our food, a healthcare sector that supports wellness as well as those who are ill, and a justice system that is well, just.

I want talented people to take part in their communities to the best of their abilities. Life has taught me many lessons, chief among them, that success is closely tied to opportunity and that we do not live in a level playing field. I, and many of my friends, benefitted from equal opportunity legislation in the 1980’s, but pay equity still eludes many. Policy is important.

I want my daughter, a single mom juggling work and post-secondary education to succeed. I know she is bright and has much to offer and that if it weren’t for the support she has been given to date, her life and the life of my grandson would be much harder. I suppose this means I want an inclusive society, one where those willing to work hard are given an opportunity to participate to their fullest. Of course, this means I want my country to also be open to people looking to build good lives, good communities and a good Canada, regardless of where they come from. I am after all first generation Canadian, the child of immigrants.

As someone who writes about grief, I know the power of words and how they can change our understanding, make us feel less alone, and make us more compassionate beings. Freedom of speech is very important to me. Many in the world do not enjoy this privilege. In a time where ‘fake news’ and ‘hate news’ has so openly become part of the dialogue, it is all the more important that vetted news and educated voices are heard.

As a woman and a feminist I am pro-choice. The decision to bring a child into this world is a serious one. I have no right to make it for another and do not believe others should make such life changing decisions unilaterally. Only, she who is pregnant can guess at the implications that ending a pregnancy or giving birth will have on her life. And I know her guess would be better than mine.

Compassion. I want policy to reflect compassion. I’ve watched for days as the bodies of four people I loved shut down bit by bit until they ceased to breath. This conversation cannot be over.

I want Canada to grow, to be strong, to create a way of life that, not only adapts to the changing circumstances we live in, but thrives. I know it will be messy at times. Nothing is built perfectly the first time. But, I believe that if we learn from the past and from our mistakes, what we endeavor to build next will be better.

This is my list. It is the one I use to help me decide for whom and for what party I will cast my vote.

What’s on your list? What is it that you want in exchange for your vote?

If you haven’t given it much thought yet, I hope you’ll do so before you too cast your vote.

Stay well, Heike


Widow Wednesdays will return Wednesday October 30th.

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

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

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The Sky is Falling! The Sky is Falling! The Election is Coming! The Election is Coming! It’s time to vote…

I’m not a big fan of fear mongering. Nor am I a fan of groupthink. When the two exist side by side it makes me want to step back and ask: “what is really going on here?”

In the chaos that has become elections I worry that there are many who out of fear choose to go with the flow rather than question the validity of the information presented to them. This makes me nervous. When we opt to ignore our own red flags (for whatever reason) and blindly trust someone whose motivation, when examined, could well harm both us and our community, we are no better than Chicken Little and her posse of blind believers. Any five year old who hears this story knows that when Chicken Little and her friends make it to the King who is wise, their foolishness (and ignorance) will be revealed. A bit humiliating, but not life threatening. But, that isn’t how the story ends, is it?

“This isn’t the way,” says Foxy Loxy. “I will show you a shortcut to the King’s palace.”

From that point on the story ends in one of three ways. The one I heard most often, as a child, was that Foxy Loxy and his family feasted on the naïve barnyard birds. No doubt a high price for blindly following a questionable vision, but the point is made. There is also the ending where Cocky Locky cries out and the rest of his feathered friends run safely back to the barnyard. (Of course Turkey Lurkey’s life is sacrificed in the process. Also not a very pleasant ending.) The third version (found in the Chicken Licken story) is that an acorn then falls on Foxy Loxy’s head. When he looks up and sees the clear sky he is baffled and he too jumps to the same conclusion as Chicken Little. “The sky is falling,” he proclaims and off he runs to who knows where. It is at this point that Cocky Locky, Ducky Lucky, Goosey Loosey and Turkey Lurkey turn to Chicken Little and ask if she is sure it was the sky that was falling. When she must admit that perhaps it was simply an acorn they chase her back to the barnyard.

In a time where “fake news”[1] and “misleading facts” have sadly become part of campaigning I think it is all the more important that, before we join Chicken Little and come to our collective demise, we ask ourselves “based on what I know, on what I see, and what I’ve read, is the sky falling?” Sometimes the implausible is indeed fact. Other times the implausible is simply incorrect.

It is when we feel unsure that we need to ask more questions. And ideally, after having answered these questions, based on what we’ve learned we decide what makes the most sense to us- not to Chicken Little. Of course, in the end, like most decisions, how we vote is a leap of faith. But let’s try to make it an educated leap of faith and avoid, through our own foolishness, harming our community and ourselves. Foxy Loxy exists for a reason.

Stay well, Heike

[1] Just writing that such a thing exists in our lexicon makes me cringe.

If you liked this blog look for tomorrow’s about the questions I ask myself before I vote


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

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

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Swan Song Festival launches in 16 Cities across Canada

One of the interesting things that has happened since my book came out is the number of people I have met who are actively involved in raising awareness about what it means to die here in North American. Though my work focuses on better supporting the grieving, I’ve come to understand that how we die and our ideas about dying can impact our grief. Because we have lost much of our knowledge around the dying process, when someone is dying and it doesn’t look like it does in the movies (because it often takes days and not minutes) we can get freaked out. So I find it very interesting that we now have a “Swan Song” Festival that will run in 16 communities across Canada on October 19th (pretty good for a first year event). Local members of Community Deathcare Canada (CDC) are hosting each of these events.

Judith McGill, the CDC national lead, for the Festival agreed to satisfy my curiosity this week and share with me what exactly these events are about and what CDC is hoping to accomplish by organizing this initiative.

Heike: Welcome Judith. Thanks for taking the time to do this with me. Let’s start with you telling me a little bit about the Swan Song Festival?

Judith McGill: Thanks Heike for making this possible. The Swan Song Festival invites the public to come together and collectively “imagine better” when it comes to dealing with the dying and death of a loved one. People whose beliefs reflect the vision of Community Deathcare Canada are hosting these events. The festival marks the formal launch of Community Deathcare Canada as a national organization.

As you mentioned events will be held in 16 cities across Canada. These events will help communities, families and individuals, such as you and me engage with and add to our personal and collective knowledge and understanding of death, dying, loss and grief. Our collective aim is to reclaim death as an honoured part of life. For example, here in Toronto, there are 4 events being hosted. There is a death café, cemetery tours, a dance workshop that explores loss and dying through movement, and an evening Extravaganza of poetry and song on the themes of Grief and Sorrow. Every event creates a different type of opportunity to engage.

Because member organizations in different cities host their own events the best thing to do is to check out our website at Swan Song Festival to see which events are being hosted in what cities.

Heike: That’s a great overview. I know a lot of people are uncomfortable with the idea of dying (myself included). Yep, even though I’ve witness several deaths, I’m still uncomfortable with this great unknown. My question is how do you think these festivals will help demystify death and help us, individually and culturally to be a little less afraid of death and deathcare?

Judith: Shared experiences help us to move forward in our thinking. Coming together in these ways helps us to understand that we are not the only person who has questions and is interested in figuring out how to do this part of life better. We expect the festival will draw people who have been intrigued by the mystery of death and who have an appetite for opening up to a new way of thinking about and experiencing death. Many will be ordinary people who have already re-discovered how they as a family want to deal with the dying and death of their loved ones. Some have been part of or born witness to powerful ceremonies and have had meaningful conversations that helped them to “normalize” death as something to contend with as a natural part of life. Some will just be curious. We’re very excited about the possibilities.

Heike: You are absolutely right. It’s only through dialogue, in whatever shape or form it takes, that we’re able to explore what’s working, what isn’t working and how we might do things better. This is a big undertaking. Thanks for spearheading this. My next question is about Community Death Care Canada. Would you please tell me a little bit about CDC itself?

Judith: Community Deathcare Canada is made up of individuals and organizations that want to transform the way all of us meet dying and death within our families and our communities. We believe a more intimate and participatory relationship with dying and deathcare can create healing and transformative experiences. We believe that death is a profound, mysterious and universal part of life, which presents opportunities for loving and compassionate encounters between individuals. We offer help and guidance to local communities to better support people and families to create more sustainable and holistic options when it comes to caring for the dying.

Our members include death educators, death midwives, death doulas, shroud makers, home hospice workers, community activists, grief counselors, celebrants and home funeral guides to name a few. I’ll send you some info. Maybe you’ll want to become more involved.

Heike: Thanks. Please send it my way. I do see the many overlaps in what we’re both trying to do. And as we both know, it’s a big job and the more of us working on it together the better it will be. That about wraps this up. So in closing would you please let my readers know how they can get tickets and where to learn more?

Judith: Some of the events are free and some charge a nominal amount, mostly to offset the cost of hosting the event. We are encouraging people to register and get tickets for any of the events they intend to attend. That way they won’t be disappointed. Details on all of the Swan Song Festival events being hosted across Canada and ticket sales are available at https://swansongfestival.ca/events. Anyone interested in learning more about Community Deathcare Care can check us out at https://www.communitydeathcare.ca

Heike: Once again, thank you Judith and I’d like to also thank all of the folks who are working on trying to dismantle the death/dying taboo. I know that as we re-familiarize ourselves with death, we will also become better at supporting those who grieve.


Toronto Events:

In Toronto, tickets for the Moving/Still dancing workshop and the evening Extravaganza on Grief and Sorrow through Poetry and Song are $15. You can get tickets by going to the Eventbrite link at the Swan Song Festival link here: https://swansongfestival.ca/toronto-on-variety It is also possible to get tickets at the door for the Extravaganza in Toronto.

The Death Café discussion in Toronto on how talking about death won’t kill you and the Mount Pleasant Cemetery tours from “Millionaires’ Row to Potter’s Row” are absolutely free.


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

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

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

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