12/14/17

getting through get-togethers; part 2: tips for feeling in control


In Part 1, we talked about taking some steps to be emotionally prepared before you attend a get-together.

Our excerpt from Lost My Partner continues:

 You can gain a greater sense of control in these (party) situations by:

1) Giving yourself the first 30 minutes after you arrive to adjust to the circumstances. Remember that without your spouse/partner, this is a new situation. Expect some brief uneasiness. Many discover that once they’ve made it past the first half hour, they’re more relaxed.

2) Contacting the host or hostess ahead of time to explain that you aren’t your usual self and may wish to leave early.

3) Taking your own car or alerting a friend who’s driving you about the possibility of making an early exit.

4) Giving yourself a ‘time-out’ in the event of feeling overwhelmed, so you can retreat to the privacy of a bathroom or bedroom, or take a walk, and have a brief cry. Most people will understand.

In Part 3, we’ll cover how to break the ice about your loved one when others are uncertain about mentioning the loss.

12/11/17

getting through get-togethers; part 1: first things first






Excerpted from our book, Lost My Partner – What’ll I Do? Revised and Expanded Edition, here are some proven strategies for making it through festive gatherings, even when you aren’t feeling in the holiday spirit.

In our previous post, Best Ways to Get Through the Holidays (Part 1), we suggest “To lessen the chance of emotional ‘sneak attacks’, make some time to grieve, either on the holiday or just before it.”

In Lost My Partner, we add, “Even when you’ve prepared yourself by making time to grieve beforehand, you may feel anxious about becoming uncomfortable in a festive gathering. There’s often a sense of being “out of it”, as you watch others having a good time.

However, just going, even if you need to leave early, is a sign of progress.”

In Part 2, learn the best ways to gain a greater sense of control in these situations.

12/7/17

help yourself through the holidays by helping others



Is the prospect of any holiday celebrating just too much to consider this year?

If you recently lost your partner, you may be feeling very “bah, humbug!” about all the customary activities and rituals of the season.

While you may chose to modify some of your usual tasks (see our post about surviving the holidays), you might be thinking about ignoring the day completely.

Keep in mind that at some point, either on the holiday or before, the pain of your loss with catch up with you (learn more about preventing “sneak attacks”).

So in addition to grieving, what can you do if you want to skip the usual holiday activities?

This time of year, there are numerous opportunities for volunteering in your community.

Consider participating with a friend and/or your children or grandchildren.

In addition to helping you stay busy during this difficult period, you’ll gain the warm feelings that come with brightening the days for those you help.

Here are some good ideas we found on factoidz.com:

Nursing Homes
Nursing homes need all kinds of volunteers. You could help decorate for their Christmas and Thanksgiving parties. They usually have a need for gift wrappers as well, and for volunteers to help the elderly make arts and crafts Christmas gifts. Volunteering for the elderly can be a year round project.

Women’s Shelters
These shelters would love to have help decorating trees, babysitting, and maybe even transporting women to do their holiday shopping. Also consider doing things like answering phones and data entry.

Homeless Shelters
There is always a need for help in these shelters, and these days our shelters are overflowing with people who need your services. Go there to help with fundraising, food preparation, clothing drives; the list is endless.

Food Kitchens
Thanksgiving is a great time to help prepare and serve a hot meal to the needy. Shelters are listed in the phone book and on the Internet.

Children’s Shelters
Help the kids get the toys they want for Christmas. Call your local childrens’ shelter and find out what toys they need and drop them off. Remember Toys for Tots, it’s sponsored by the United States Marine Corps, and all you have to do is buy a toy and drop it off at one of many selected drop off points.

Your local place of worship
Ask your religious advisor what you can do to help those in your community, maybe even those at your place of worship need help. This type of volunteering is one of the easiest ways to help our neighbors.

Online Volunteering
Contribute your skills to organizations all around the world, and help them grow. You can make a difference through your translation skills, research, writing and editing….the possibilities are almost endless.

Any other suggestions for holiday volunteering?

Please let us know.

12/4/17

holiday postal dilemmas






Here's useful tips on handling some uncomfortable holiday postal dilemmas.


1) Those Who Don't Know About Your Loss

You may receive some holiday cards that still include your spouse/partner in the address (learn more about the whole issue of being caught off guard by people who don’t know about the loss in our earlier post, Encounters of the Awkward Kind; When Others Haven't Heard About Your Loss).

If there are some friends or business associates who haven’t yet heard about your spouse/partner’s death, you may be wondering about notifying them during the holidays.

It’s okay to do what feels most comfortable. While some people prefer to wait until the stress of the holidays is over, others choose to send letters along with their customary holiday cards.

Not sure how to break the news?

In the letter itself, you can give a brief description about what happened.

Then add a short update about how you and the family are coping.


2) To Send or Not to Send Holiday Cards

If you usually send out seasonal cards, you may feel uncertain about doing so this year. For many, this annual ritual is an important part of the holidays, and some may even feel guilty about not sending cards.

It's important to keep in mind however, that under the circumstances it's okay to skip this or any other holiday ritual you don't feel up to because you're mourning.

Others will understand.    

11/30/17

reflections: by darcie sims



With the holidays here, we thought we’d post this inspiring article by Darcie Sims from The Grief Blog.com. Although it’s about a military family, the issue is one that we all deal with at holiday times.

The Empty Chair
There’s an empty chair in our house and I am not sure what to do with it. It’s been empty a long time and although we’ve moved more than a few times since it became empty, we still haul it around with us. It’s not a particularly classic chair or even a very pretty one, and it is empty…all the time.

I never really know which room to put it in whenever we do move, but once it has found its place, I’ve noticed that it simply stays there. No one moves it, no one suggests putting it away.


No one sits in it. It’s just an empty chair.

As a military family, for many generations, we are used to having members of the family off in faraway places for long periods of time. My father would be gone for up to a year or even two. His chair was often empty at the table. My husband’s military career took him away for many months at a time, and his chair was often empty. And then, when our daughter was commissioned in the military, we knew her chair would also be empty sometimes. So empty chairs at our house are not an uncommon thing, but this chair…this chair should never have been empty.

As the holidays approach, I am always faced with the task of deciding what to do with our empty chair. Should we put it away for the season? Should we decorate it? Or should we just ignore it?

One holiday season, we did decide to put it away. Even though it was an empty chair, it left an even bigger empty space when we did move. How can that be? How can something that is empty leave a bigger empty space when it’s gone?!

We’ve tried to ignore it, but its emptiness is very loud and it is hard to miss an empty chair in a room filled with people sitting in all the other chairs. And even when we could manage to ignore it, others could not and they always commented on it. An empty chair is not invisible.

Then, one year, we decided to simply include it in our holiday decorating scheme; that was the cause of some interesting discussions. Should we put a special holiday pillow in it? What about tossing a colorful quilt or afghan over the back? Should we put something in the chair? But nothing we tried could fill the emptiness of that chair. It just sat silent like a sentinel, waiting for something…or someone.

It took us many years of living with that empty chair, day in and day out, to finally figure out what to do with it. Our empty chair is pulled up to the table and a single rose is placed on the plate, a symbol of everlasting love. The empty chair represents all of those who are not with us for this occasion, but who live within our hearts forever. It is not a sad sight because we know that empty chair represents a love we have known and shared and with that gift, our family is forever blessed.

We join hands in thanksgiving, completing the circle with the empty chair within our family circle, for even though death may have come, love never goes away.

So, if your holiday table will have an empty chair this year, remember that it is not truly an empty space. That place is still occupied by the love and joy of the one(s) who sat in it. Don’t hide that chair away. You may not wish to bring it to the table as we do, but take time this holiday season to remember the laughter, the joy, the love, the light of those who are no longer within hug’s reach, but whose love still fills us with gratitude.

Join hands around your table, however small, and say a prayer of thanksgiving…for the love you have known and still hold deep within your heart. You are rich beyond measure for having had a chair filled. Don’t let death rob you of the heart space that love keeps.

Our little empty chair…no one has sat in it for 25 years…until this season. The empty chair at our house has been filled with the tiny spirit of a new life as she found that chair to be just the “right size.”

We are a family circle, some chairs filled and others not, broken by death, but mended by love.


Darcie D. Sims, Ph.D., CGC, CHT


Reach Darcie Sims at http://www.griefinc.com/.

11/27/17

how you and your pets can help each other




How can you and your pet(s) help each other through the mourning process?

It’s important to recognize that pets also feel grief and express it in their own ways.

To better understand how animals mourn, read our post, Is Your Pet Also Grieving?

There’s also an informative post on Psychology Today’s blog by Marc Bekoff that looks at scientific data about animals and grief.

Declaring “Grief in animals: It's arrogant to think we're the only animals who mourn”, the author goes on to say, “There is no doubt that many animals experience rich and deep emotions. It's not a matter of if emotions have evolved in animals but why they have evolved as they have. We must never forget that our emotions are the gifts of our ancestors, our animal kin. We have feelings and so do other animals.

Among the different emotions that animals display clearly and unambiguously is grief. Many animals display profound grief at the loss or absence of a close friend or loved one.” (Read More)

Our pets can also provide invaluable emotional support for us in our bereavement. For more about this, read our post Pets As Support, where we discuss the various studies that reveal the ways animals are able to show empathy and affection to bereaved owners.

We’d appreciate hearing about your own experiences with your pets.

11/23/17

widowhood way back when: how pilgrims progressed through loss





If you’re facing a Thanksgiving dinner that might be hindered by a bad case of heartburn or having to cope with troublesome relatives, consider what the original Pilgrims had to cope with. Especially the widowed survivors.

For a look back, we discovered the informative article, Pilgrim Burials on the site http://www.lovetoknow.com/.

According to this excerpt from authors J.C. Redmond and MaryBeth Adomaitis, “Pilgrim burials were relatively simple affairs. The occupants of the Mayflower were buried in unmarked graves because it is thought that they didn't want the Native Americans living in the area to know how small of a population they were.”

The authors go on to describe later Pilgrim burials, “When Pilgrims died, headstones were not erected at the burial site. No artisans skilled in carving stone had come over with the first group of settlers. In addition, there was no stone available in the area where the Pilgrims settled from which to fashion a monument to the dead. Their first priority was to concentrate on the tasks necessary for survival; even if the stone carvers had come on the trip, there wasn't any time to carve headstones.

A family wanting to erect a headstone in memory of a loved one would have to go to the expense of having one brought over from England.”

Redmond and Adomaitis describe burial rituals, “In the early years after the arrival of the Pilgrims in North America, funerals were a very simple matter. No funeral ceremony was conducted and no special sermon was given. The grieving family did not wear mourning clothes for a certain time after the death.

Embalming of the body of the deceased was not done. On occasion, graves were opened and reused. The bodies of a family or a small community may share the same grave.”

So enjoy the food and be grateful that as difficult as some relatives can be, at least you aren’t stuck with them for all eternity.

11/20/17

5 tips for staying healthy while you're mourning




Research has shown that you’re more vulnerable to physical problems following the death of a spouse/partner. This doesn’t mean that you will get sick, only that it’s important to take care of your health during this stressful period.

The 5 best ways to safeguard yourself include:

1) Informing your doctor(s) that your spouse/partner has died. Pre-existing medical conditions can be affected by the stress of coping with loss and you may need an adjustment in medication dosages or other treatment changes.

2) Making sure you’re getting adequate nutrition. Appetite loss is a common symptom of grief and can create health problems over time. Rather than forcing yourself to polish off three full meals a day, try to eating several small snacks throughout the day, including fruits, vegetables and lean meats or other sources of protein.

3) Considering vitamin and/or meal supplements. Ask your doctor about taking vitamins and/or one of the liquid meal supplements like Ensure.

4) Taking short naps to compensate for the lack of sleep at night. Sleep disturbance is a very common symptom of grief. A word of caution: Some doctors will want to prescribe sleep medications. Although this type of medication can be helpful in the days following the death, continued use can interfere with the normal mourning process.

5) Keeping moving. If at all possible, try to get at least 20 to 30 minutes a day of light exercise, like taking a walk. Mild exercise has been proven to help overall health and well-being.

Remember: grief puts you under a lot of stress both emotionally and physically. So try to take the best possible care of yourself during this vulnerable time in your life.

11/16/17

staying connected with adult step-children; part 2


In our last post, we looked at some of the causes of tension between you and your adult step-children.

Here are some strategies for defusing that tension and improving communication.

1) Give everyone a psychological “time-out” from making any decisions. Postpone any discussions about who gets what for a few months and tell the family, “I’m just not ready to focus on such important questions yet.”

2) Look to other family members and friends for your emotional support. Your spouse/partner’s children may or may be there to lean on right away.

3) Don’t put your stepchildren in the middle of any unfinished business you have with your late spouse/partner or his or her ex. Vent your anger at the appropriate target, even if it means talking to a photo of your spouse/partner.

4) After a few months (trust your instincts about the timing), suggest a get-together. Assure your stepchildren that they remain important to you and you’d like to work out ways to maintain your connection.

5) Remember that when it comes it financial issues, conflicts can easily arise. Protect yourself by consulting with your own experts.

Keep in mind that if your prior relationship with a step-child was close, he or she will be anxious not to lose it. A strong foundation can help any relationship weather some temporary storms.

11/13/17

staying connected with adult step-children; part 1: understanding the issues


You’ve just lost your spouse/partner.

Now you may face more losses.

If your spouse/partner had adult children, how can you be certain those relationships won’t either slip away or be destroyed by conflict?

To better understand what is happening, keep in mind the following:

-Your step-children are grieving too. Their reactions will reflect their own relationships with their deceased parent. If there was conflict, there may be hidden guilt or remorse behind how they act.

-Your connection with your step-children depends on how you have been in their lives and what kind of relationship you shared. If there was any initial tension around the circumstances of your marriage, this can surface.

-Is your spouse’s ex alive? Your step-children may distance themselves from you. Keep in mind that what appears to be a shift in loyalties may just be a temporary reaction to the loss.

-Consider your connection prior to the death. Were you close to your step-children? What stresses did the circumstances prior to the death (prolonged illness, a sudden accident), put on the relationship?


Hopefully these questions can shed some light on what lies beneath any tensions or confusion you may have experienced with your stepchildren.

In our next post, we’ll offer some strategies for strengthening these important relationships during this difficult time.

11/9/17

bereavement counseling for surviving families of veterans

With Veteran's Day being observed this week, you might want to check out the opportunities for bereavement counseling if your loved one was a veteran.

The Veterans Affairs website was updated last year and is loaded with information about survivor benefits of all kinds. 

According to the website: The Department of Veteran Affairs (VA) offers bereavement counseling to parents, spouses and children of Armed Forces personnel who died in the service of their country. Also eligible are family members of reservists and National Guardsmen who die while on duty. VA's bereavement counseling is provided at community-based Vet Centers located near the families. There is no cost for VA bereavement counseling. S

Services are obtained by contacting Readjustment Counseling Service (RCS) at 202-273-9116 or via electronic mail at vet.center@hq.med.va.gov both of which are specific to this specialized service.

RCS staff will assist families in contacting the nearest Vet Center. For further information, please visit http://www.vba.va.gov/EFIF/dependents.htm#deceased and/or http://www.vetcenter.va.gov/Bereavement_Counseling.asp

Even if you yourself aren't a surviving family member, you may discover some important resources that can help a friend or relative who has lost a serviceman/woman.

Our thanks and best wishes go out to all veterans and their families!

11/6/17

best ways to get through the holidays; part 2


In our last post, we suggested the best ways to cope with the upcoming holiday season.

Here are more proven strategies:

1) Contact the host or hostess before the get-together and let them know that you aren’t feeling like your usual self and may need to leave early.

2) Give yourself the first 30 minutes after you arrive to adjust to a gathering where your spouse is no longer with you.

3) Take your own car or alert a friend who is driving that you may want to leave early.

4) If you start to feel overwhelmed, you can retreat to the bathroom or take a short walk for some private time.

5) If you choose to avoid the usual gatherings, consider volunteering to serve meals at shelters, visiting shut-ins, or spending the day at a movie or health spa.

Remember: You will get through this time. We’ve found that the anticipation is usually much worse than the actual events. Be sure to plan ahead and do only what is most comfortable for you.

11/2/17

best ways to get through the holidays; part 1


Dreading the upcoming holidays?

If you’ve recently lost your spouse, the coming festivities can feel as unwelcome as Marley’s Ghost.

Here are some tried and true strategies for facing the holiday season:

1) Think ahead and try to anticipate how you’ll feel on each holiday.

2) Even if you don’t join in the festivities, don’t remain alone all day. Spend some time with a friend.

3) Considering your loss, don’t expect yourself to be as upbeat as usual. Expect some sadness as you take part in the festivities.

4) To lessen the chance of emotional sneak attacks, make some time to grieve, either on the holiday or just before it.

5) If you do choose to join in holiday activities, make some changes as to how much you do or become involved in.

Look for more tips in our next post.

10/30/17

reflections: quotes to get you through the days; part 9





1) Courage is being scared to death – but saddling up anyway.
– John Wayne

2) There is no grief which time does not lessen and soften.
– Cicero

3) I am beginning to learn that it is the sweet, simple things of life which are the real ones after all.
– Laura Ingalls Wilder

4) A journey of a thousand miles must begin with a single step.
– Lao-Tzu

5) Don’t let life discourage you; everyone who got where he is had to begin where he was.
–Richard L. Evans

reflections: quotes to help you cope with fear

1) Listen to what you know instead of what you fear. 
- Richard Bach

2) Nothing in life is to be feared, it is only to be understood.
- Marie Curie

3) Of all the liars in the world, sometimes the worst are your own fears. 
- Rudyard Kipling

4) I believe that anyone can conquer fear by doing the things he fears to do... 
- Eleanor Roosevelt

5) You can discover what your enemy fears most by observing the means he uses to frighten you.
- Eric Hoffer

10/26/17

beware the ghouls and goblins that prey on the widowed: part 2



In Part 1, we gave tips on how to identify and protect yourself from the ghouls and goblins, (AKA well-meaning friends and family) that prey on the vulnerability of the newly widowed.

Here are two more creatures you should be aware of.

3) Demolition Demons


Spot them: These creatures love to pressure you with sincere but unwelcome advice aimed at dismantling reminders of your former life. Under the guise of “it’s for your own good”, they urge you to give away your spouse’s belongings, sell your car, home, or other valuables, move to another city, or make other important changes…quickly.

Ward them off by: Keeping in mind that making hasty decisions while you’re grieving usually results in later regrets. Tell DD’s,“ I need more time before I make any important decisions. I’ll consider taking these steps when I’m in a better frame of mind.” If this doesn’t stop them, a simple, “Not now!” may work.

4) Creepy Crawlers


Spot them: Often a family friend or neighbor, these predators exploit your trust at a time when you’re most vulnerable. When these creeps offer a sympathetic “shoulder to cry on”, that’s not the only part of their bodies they want to share with you.


Ward them off by: Letting them know how insulted you feel and what a betrayal of trust their offers have caused. Or you might say, “You’ve obviously misread me/the situation. I’m not interested!”

The grieving process can be scary enough without these creatures. With a little caution and some assertiveness, you can send them scurrying back into the darkness.

10/23/17

beware the ghouls and goblins that prey on the widowed: part 1



In the days and weeks following your spouse’s death, shock and exhaustion can leave you vulnerable to certain people who are difficult to avoid. Usually disguised as well-meaning family and friends, these creatures often unknowingly say or do upsetting things.

Here are some tips for identifying them and protecting yourself:

1. Platitude Ghouls


Spot them : Though well-intentioned, these creatures don’t think before spewing out insensitive remarks such as, “It’s all for the best”, “Aren’t you over it yet?”, “Don’t worry – you’ll find someone else” or “ I went through exactly the same thing during my divorce.”

Ward them off by: Changing the subject.


2. Gruesome Grabbers

Spot them: Usually adult children/step-children, cousins, or other relatives, these creatures swoop in while you’re still off-balance and start nosing around for “remembrances” of your late spouse. Can often be found burrowing through closets and drawers while you’re in another part of the house.

Ward them off by: Telling them, “I’m just not ready to deal with this yet. I’ll let you know when I’m up to it.” Then be sure to keep an eye on them.


There’s more in Part 2.

10/19/17

i'm not the typical partner: part 2

(Excerpted from Lost My Partner - What'll I Do? Revised and Expanded Edition)


In our last post, we discussed ways in which the loss of a non-traditional partner can differ from that of a traditional spouse.


Here are some suggestions for how to cope:

1)      Are any of your partner’s family more accepting of you? It can be a comfort to share your pain with those who were close to your partner. Reach out to approachable family members or friends.

2)      If you’ve been barred from attending the funeral, you might consider creating your own memorial gathering.

3)      Let those close to you know what you’re going through. Check for community support groups or online resources.

4)      Consult an attorney or contact your local bar association and the Social Security Administration about your legal rights and survivor benefits. While each state has different laws, some do make provisions for non-traditional partners. Even once divorced, if your marriage lasted 10 years or more, you may be entitled to your ex-spouse’s social security benefits. Don’t assume you have no rights – investigate!

Remember: it’s not important how others judge your relationship or your grief. What matters most is what your attachment meant to you and your partner. Recall what was special and cherish the bonds that brought you together. Respect your own needs and treat yourself kindly.

10/16/17

i'm not the typical partner: part 1



(This post is excerpted from Lost My Partner – What’ll I Do?, Revised and Expanded Edition)



Grief for the death of a long-term partner in a same-sex or opposite sex relationship is as deep and meaningful as the grief felt in the loss of a spouse. Even the death of an en-spouse can be a painful loss.

While you, the survivor, may experience the same grief reactions as traditional partners, there are different issues that affect your mourning process and may not be publicly acknowledged or supported, such as:

·    Whether your relationship was accepted or rejected by family members.

·     Access to your partner during the final illness or circumstances of the death and/or inclusion in funeral/memorial arrangements.

·    Legal and financial complications involving property ownership, child custody or survivor benefits.

·    Emotional unfinished business, especially any conflict as an aftermath of divorce or lack of access to your partner around the time of death.

·     Lack of traditional community support systems.

Any, or all of the above can prolong or complicate a normal mourning process.

In our next post, we offer some suggestions for coping.




10/12/17

5 things you don't have to worry about while grieving


With all the changes and stress you have to cope with because your spouse/partner has died, we thought it might help relieve some pressure to know what does not require your immediate attention.

1) Responding to sympathy cards and/or other forms of condolence.

2) Staying on a diet (unless your health is at great risk), or any other non-critical lifestyle change.

3) Taking care of others feelings about the loss (except immediate family).

4) Keeping any social obligations.

5) Making major decisions about your home, finances, etc.

Remember that you’re going through a major loss and others don’t expect you to function the way you normally do.

So be realistic about your expectations for yourself and trust that others will understand.

Be kind to yourself.

10/9/17

widowhood way back when: what inspired the widowed columbus

In honor of Columbus Day, here’s some interesting information about Christopher Columbus’s personal life we found on answers.com.

After several local voyages, Columbus found himself in Portugal, “…where he married Felipa Perestrelo e Monis, daughter of Bartolomeu Perestrelo, deceased proprietor of the island of Porto Santo.

The couple lived first in Lisbon, where Perestrelo's widow (aka Columbus’s mother-in-law), showed documents her husband had written or collected regarding possible western lands in the Atlantic, and these probably started Columbus thinking of a voyage of investigation.

Later they moved to Porto Santo, where his wife died soon after the birth of Diego, the discoverer's only legitimate child.

After his wife's death, Columbus turned wholly to discovery plans and theories, among them the hope to discover a westward route to Asia.”

The post goes on to say that while waiting in Spain for royal permission to discover the New World, “…the widowed Columbus had an affair with young Beatriz Enriquez de Harana of Cordova, who in 1488 bore his other son, Ferdinand, out of wedlock. He never married her, though he provided for her in his will and legitimatized the boy, as Castilian law permitted.”

Widowed or not – never underestimate the influence of in-laws!

10/5/17

when should i stop wearing my wedding ring and other timeline questions about widowhood; part 2


Continued from Part 1, here are more answers to your important questions:


*When Will I Stop Thinking About What Happened?

In the days following the death of your spouse/partner, you probably find yourself pre-occupied with what has happened.

Often the details of those final days, the death itself, worries about arrangements/financial concerns, and/or thoughts and images about your loss can seem to occupy every waking moment.

In the aftermath of any shock (even when a death is anticipated), it’s normal to be preoccupied with these thoughts and images as your mind struggles to absorb the reality of the loss.

Added to this are the other adjustments and tasks you’re forced to deal with as a consequence of the loss itself.

Keep in mind that with time, you’ll be able to focus on other aspects of your life.
Many people feel guilty when this happens, fearful that pulling away emotionally means they no longer love or remember their partner.

What it actually means is that you’ve begun to find a new, different place inside you for your loved one. A place that is no less cherished for demanding your constant attention.

If, after about a year, you find yourself still preoccupied with the death, you may have conflicts or unfinished business that is complicating your ability to mourn. Consider getting counseling from a mental health professional or trusted clergyperson to help you sort through troublesome concerns.

*When will I stop crying?

(Excerpted from Lost My Partner – What’ll I do?)
Crying is a healthy expression of your pain. Some of you, however, may consider tears a form of “self-pity” and become critical of yourself when you feel the need to cry.

Remind yourself that as you go through the mourning process, crying for any reason is normal and appropriate and Nature’s way of releasing emotional tension.

Whether you’re at work or at home, it can be difficult to find the privacy to “let go” and shed some tears. Crying is a necessary release of pain and tension.

Sometimes though, the tears just blindside you. It helps to have some places in mind that you can easily retreat to. (read more)


Look for more valuable answers in Part 3.

10/2/17

when should i stop wearing my wedding ring and other timeline questions about widowhood; part 1




After your partner’s death, it’s difficult to know when the appropriate time is to let go of various symbols of your union. Often friends and family will urge you to take a step you may not feel ready to take. Despite the pressure from others, however, it’s important to listen to your own sense of what feels right for you.


* When should I stop wearing my wedding ring?

After your spouse/partner dies, you may have mixed feelings about when to remove your wedding ring.

Because there are no firm rules about if and when to take this emotionally loaded step, it’s really up to you to decide when to stop wearing your ring.

You might practice removing it for short periods and see how you feel. Or try a more gradual change by shifting the ring to another finger, different hand, or a chain you wear around your neck.

However you proceed, take the time you need to the make the decision that’s right for you.


* When should I get rid of my spouse/partner’s possessions?


How do you know when the time is right to clear out your spouse's belongings? This important decision has few clear guidelines. Well-meaning family and friends may pressure you to "get rid of" cherished possessions you don't feel ready to let go of. Or you yourself may feel anxious to "get rid of" painful reminders of your loss. But what's the rush?
We urge you not to "get rid of" anything before you first consider these tips:

1. Trust your own instincts about the right time to tackle this difficult process. Take your time and don't rush. The hasty decision you make today may become tomorrow's regret.

2. Ask a trusted family member or friend for help in packing things up and/or making arrangements.

3. Set a realistic timetable for completing this process. Make allowances for how grief is affecting you. Assume there will be times when, despite your best intentions, you won't feel up to dealing with this. (read more)

9/28/17

widowhood way back when: manly mourning in victorian times

While widowers had it easier in some ways than widows in Victorian times, they were more strictly constrained in how they expressed their grief.

According to “Widower Etiquette & Social Conventions" by eHow contributor Rachel Levy Sarfin:

In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, widowers were expected to adhere to certain social conventions. Widowers had to refrain from attending any entertainment events for a year.

At the same time, men were not expected to mourn deeply for their spouses. Shows of emotion were considered unmanly. Men threw themselves into their work to distract themselves.

Unlike women, men were expected to remarry quickly. A new wife would provide companionship and childcare, if necessary.

Widowers who had not remarried were considered in the same class as bachelors. An unmarried woman could not visit a widower unless one of his female relatives was present. A married woman could visit a widower, as long as she was accompanied by her husband or brother. Callers would leave behind condolence cards, as they would do for any bereaved individual. In return, the widower would send thank-you cards to his callers.

Widowers were also expected to dress in a certain manner. Black was the official color of mourning. While women were expected to buy a new wardrobe in this color, men were not expected to do this. Instead, etiquette dictated that men wear a black armband or hatband. White linen replaced colored linen for the duration of the mourning period. Men never wore crepe, which is a matte fabric traditionally worn by women in mourning.


Aside from having to repress feelings of grief and strong pressure to remarry whether one felt ready or not, being a Victorian widower was certainly easy on the clothes budget.











9/25/17

reflections by deb edwards: filling the "hole"

Back in '09, Contributor Deb Edwards shared her reflections in this insightful post.

Filling the “Hole”

Anyone who has lost their partner knows what I am referring to in some way. It is how you feel when you are the only one in the room that is not half of a couple, It is the way you feel at the end of the day when you are alone. It is the way you feel the first time you fill out a form and circle the “W” instead of the “M”. It is the way you feel when you realize they are never coming back.

Since my husband died a little over a year ago, I have felt a physical and emotional “hole” where he used to be. It is bigger on some days and smaller on others, but it never goes away completely.

I have known people that have used the “hole” to engage in self-destructive behaviors. Eating too much, drinking too much, self-medicating, spending too much, but at the end of the day, the “hole” is still there. I tried to fill the “hole” with cookies, but trust me - it didn’t help. The “hole” was still there - and I had a stomach ache!

So what do you do? You do the best you can to fill the “hole”. Meet new people, find new interests, and develop a good support system. Re-invent yourself - take risks-step outside your comfort zone. I am fortunate to have a job that I love, I spend time with my grandkids, I rescued a cat and I have been doing volunteer work. Don’t hesitate to get professional help if you feel like you have fallen in the “hole” and get can’t pull yourself out.

The “hole” is a normal part of the grieving process and nothing can ever replace the one you lost. It is ever-present, but what I have learned during the past year is that it is how you fill the “hole” that is important. You have a choice every hour of every day on how you want to live your life. So choose well, but don’t beat yourself up. We are human, and some days we do better than others.

And as always - breathe!
Deb Edwards

a widow by any other name

  Struggling with being referred to as a “widow”?

According to our post, I Hate the Word Widow! going through the death of a spouse/partner is difficult enough. As soon as the death occurs though, you’re suddenly labeled by everyone as a “widow”.

As we discussed in Your New Identity, it’s difficult enough just adjusting to no longer being part of a couple, without the pain and stigma of being referred to as a widow.

Unfortunately, there have always been negative stereotypes of what it means to be widowed. Take for instance, this example from literature:

From the novel Middlemarch by George Eliot: "My dear Celia," said Lady Chettam, "a widow must wear her mourning at least a year.”

In order to save face in society, a widow was compelled to announce her loss to the world by her apparel.


9/21/17

the dilemma of honoring last wishes; part 2



In our previous post, we talked about dealing with conflicting feelings that can arise about carrying out your spouse/partner’s last wishes.

If you’re facing this dilemma, or already have, consider the following:

1) At the time these requests were made, he or she couldn’t have anticipated the realities of how you would feel when the time came to carry out these wishes.

2) Discuss with family members the possibility of compromise. If, for example, your spouse/partner wanted no service or memorial but you and the family feel the need to get together to share the loss, you might arrange a “gathering” to which family and friends can bring photos and mementoes of your spouse.

3) The important thing is that you honor(ed) your partner’s life in the best way possible for all concerned

Keep in mind that your needs are as important to respect as your late partner’s were.

9/18/17

the dilemma of honoring last wishes; part 1


Few requests carry a more powerful sense of obligation than those of a dying spouse/partner.

These can include anything from funeral/memorial arrangements to where and how the remains are to be dealt with.

Sometimes, though, your partner’s wishes may conflict with your own needs.

What seemed the right choice at the time the requests were made can, as the realities of death are actually faced, feel uncomfortable or inappropriate to the survivor. The decision to change or ignore your partner’s wishes, however, may leave you struggling with feelings of guilt and/or resentment.

In our next post, we’ll suggest ways to cope with this dilemma.

9/14/17

back to school after the loss; part 2: teenagers


(Excerpted from our book, Lost My Partner – What’ll I Do?)

In Part 1 of these excerpts, we suggested ways to ease your school-age child’s return to the classroom. There are, however, some important differences to be aware of with teens.

Because it’s not uncommon for teenagers to react to the death of a parent with behavioral problems at school such as poor performance or truancy, it’s important to:

a) Talk to your teen about what’s happened and how it’s affected them.

b) Listen to his/her fears and concerns and be reassuring but truthful in your response.

c) Ask your teenager if he/she would like you to inform the school or any teacher about the death. This is to ensure that the teacher will be understanding of the change in behavior and school work.

d) Let your teen tell classmates and friends in his/her own way, if they prefer to do so.

Remember that no matter how much they pull away from you because they’re adolescents, there are still times they need to depend on you.

9/11/17

back to school after the loss; part 1: children


(Excerpted from our book, Lost My Partner – What’ll I Do? Revised and Expanded Edition)

Following the death of your partner, your child is probably anxious to return to their daily world, which provides a much needed source of support for them during this time. In addition to the stability it provides, school is where friends and teachers can offer an ear for feelings your child may hesitate to share with you.

1) Before your child returns to school, contact his/her teacher and the school counselor. Discuss how they can tell your child’s classmates about the death prior to your child’s return. It’s important the teacher be aware that your child’s loss may stir up fears in other children about losing a parent. The teacher might also explore with your child and his/her classmates how to respond supportively when your child becomes sad or tearful.

2) Prepare your child for how to react to people at school. Rehearse simple ways for him/her to respond to other children’s questions, behavior, etc.

3) If being at school becomes too overwhelming for your child, arrange ahead of time for you or another adult to come pick him/her up during the day.


In Part 2, we’ll discuss ways to support your teenager in returning to school.

9/7/17

getting back to work; part 2: your reactions




In Part 1 of this excerpt from Lost My Partner – What’ll I Do? we discussed the various ways your coworkers may react to you once you return to work.

We now focus on your own reactions to being on the job following your loss.

- Be prepared for unexpected tears. During the first week at work, there may be moments when you find yourself tearful. This lessens with time, but for now, give yourself permission to retreat to the restroom or other secluded area for a good cry or to compose yourself. Many find giving themselves this release helps relieve the pressure of having to control feelings of grief while at work.

- Be prepared to experience some difficulty with memory and concentration. These are common but temporary grief reactions. While you may feel frustrated and anxious about this change, try to be patient with yourself. It helps to reread and/or go over information or tasks more than once.

- Your boss or coworkers may have unrealistic expectations. Assure them you’re doing your best, and that any slowdown on your part is temporary.

Despite how others may react, it’s important for you to recognize that what is going on is normal and temporary. With time and patience (especially your own), you will regain the capacity you used to have to do your job.

9/4/17

going back to work; part 1: coworkers' reactions



(Excerpted from our book, Lost My Partner – What’ll I Do?)

Returning to a job after a spouse’s death is a step that tends to be anticipated with eagerness, dread, or both, at different times.

The workplace can seem like a familiar well-ordered refuge where you find many hours of distraction away from your pain.

On the other hand, it can represent the ordeal of work pressures, coworkers’ reactions, and a boss’s unrealistic expectations.

Here are some ways to make it through a work day while you’re grieving:

- While your private world has been drastically changed, your workplace has gone along in its usual way. You may, therefore, initially feel out of sync with the rest of your coworkers.

- Coworkers will look to you for their cues. Others usually feel awkward about expressing feelings or knowing the “right thing” to say. How you respond to the first expressions of sympathy will convey a message to other coworkers about how and if you want to discuss the loss. Some possible responses include: “Thank you. It’s difficult to talk right now – maybe later.” Or “I appreciate your concern.” Remember, the choice is yours.

- Some coworkers may not mention the loss. This can feel hurtful and even insulting. Try to keep in mind that people are often afraid of “reminding” or upsetting a grieving person. Expressing sadness can seem especially threatening in a work setting, where personal distress is supposed to take a back seat to the demands of business.

In Part 2, learn tips for dealing with reactions of your own that may crop up at work

8/31/17

is your pet also grieving?






If you have a pet(s), you may have noticed changes in their behavior since your spouse/partner has died.

We came across the following post by on the Animal Friends site and found it interesting.

According to When Pets Grieve, "We all find it hard to say goodbye. Our pets are just like us in many ways. Many of us can clearly understand their moods and emotions by the way they look at us or the way they wag their tail.

Our pets display emotions every day, but do they experience a complex emotion like grief? Grief is a reaction to the sudden absence of something or someone who brought comfort and satisfaction—and many pet owners will attest that their pets grieve when they lose a loved one."

It continues, "Research now confirms that our pets experience symptoms of grief when they lose a beloved human or animal companion. Grief has even been observed in wild species. Elephants have been seen caressing the body of a deceased companion. There are published reports of pets who constantly search for a deceased loved one and animals who no longer want to play or eat when a companion dies."

The author goes on, "Many grieving dogs often act as if they’re searching for something. They become restless or lethargic, lose their appetite, have accidents in the house, cry and don’t want to play. Dogs are certainly not alone; many cat and rabbit owners report similar experiences with their grieving pets."

The author suggests, "Just as you’d comfort a grieving friend, you can help your pet cope with grief. First and foremost, keep your pet’s routine as normal as possible. This may be difficult if a pet’s primary caregiver has passed away, but it is essential to maintain as normal a routine as possible. Second, don’t reinforce any behavioral changes. If your pet stops eating, don’t change the food, and don’t increase the amount of attention you give your pet. It may lead to new problems, like separation anxiety."

And goes on to advise, "If you find that nothing helps your pet, speak with your veterinarian. Your vet can help you decide whether prescription medicine will be effective to help calm and relax your pet."

The post later concludes, "Both humans and animals find it hard to say goodbye, but with love and understanding, we can work to help our animal friends cope with loss."


What are your thoughts?

8/28/17

reflections: remembering don spector on his birthday


Sunday would have been my dad’s 92st birthday.

If, that is, he had lived more than a few weeks past his 49th birthday.

It took me a long time before I could picture Dad as the man he was before cancer so cruelly altered him and our lives.

I try to imagine him now as an elderly man with all the physical changes that come with advanced age.

Yet despite how he might now look if he’d been able to grow old, what comes through in my thoughts are the qualities about him that would have remained ageless;

His compassion.

His sense of humor.

His intelligence.

His insightfullness.

His love.

These are the realities of Dad that remain ageless. And always with me.

Laurie

8/24/17

widowhood way back when: the 19th century mourning timetable



“Victorian mourning fashion,” according to Kyshah Hell, in her article Victorian Mourning Garb, “Was aimed mainly at women, widows in particular. The fashion had a way of isolating a widow in her time of need just as the Queen had done. For the first year, a woman who was in mourning was not allowed to exit her home without full black attire and a weeping veil. Her activities were initially restricted to church services.”



She goes on to describe the required stages of mourning for women:

“Full mourning, a period of a year and one day, was represented with dull black clothing without ornament. The most recognizable portion of this stage was the weeping veil of black crepe. If a woman had no means of income and small children to support, marriage was allowed after this period. There are cases of women returning to black clothing on the day after marrying again.”



“Second mourning, a period of nine months,” the author continues, “Allowed for minor ornamentation by implementing fabric trim and mourning jewelry. The main dress was still made from a lusterless cloth. The veil was lifted and worn back over the head. Elderly widows frequently remained in mourning for the rest of their lives.



Half mourning lasted from three to six months and was represented by more elaborate fabrics used as trim. Gradually easing back into color was expected coming out of half mourning. All manner of jewelry could be worn.”



“The standard mourning time for a widower, “ the author points out, “Was two years but it was up to his discretion when to end his single stage. Men could go about their daily lives and continue to work. Typically young unmarried men stayed in mourning for as long as the women in the household did. “

8/21/17

how to ease into those zzzs; part 2






In our previous post, we looked at how your normal sleep is disrupted by the stress of losing your spouse/partner.

Now for our 7 most useful tips on dealing with that long stretch before your alarm goes off.

1) Use your bed for sleep only. If you have to get up, go into another room to read, watch or listen to something boring. Avoid mentally stimulating content.
2) Don’t look at the clock. Noticing how long it’s taking you to fall asleep can become another pressure.
3) If you’re too tense to fall asleep, get up and perform some mindless, repetitive housework, like vacuuming.
4) Write down any persistent thoughts or worries.
5) Listen to music or an audio book/podcast at such a low volume that the effort to hear will distract you from worrying thoughts.
6) Listen to a relaxation audio while still in bed.
7) Get some mild exercise, like walking, earlier in the day. If you have health issues, be sure to check with your doctor before attempting any activity.

If you find that some nights you just can’t relax enough for sleep, don't try to medicate yourself with alcohol. Instead, talk to you doctor about prescribing some medication on a temporary basis only!

If certain problems persist in affecting your sleep, consider talking them over with a trusted clergyperson or a licensed mental health professional.

8/17/17

how to ease into those zzz's;part 1


Since your spouse/partner’s death, do you feel exhausted during the day because when you try sleep at night, you:

a) toss and turn all night, unable to shut down your thoughts?

b) fall asleep, only to wake up a few hours later, unable to get back to sleep?

Keep in mind that some disturbances in your normal sleep pattern are to be expected. With all the changes, stresses and mental/physical overload you’re dealing with, it’s no wonder you can’t rest.

With time, these typical symptoms of grief will subside.

In the meantime, remind yourself that everything seems worse at night. Once morning arrives, the problem or memory that kept you tossing and turning will probably seem more manageable.


In our next post, we’ll give you our 7 best ways to make it through those endless nights

8/14/17

lost my partner to suicide; part 3: more tips for lifting the burden off yourself




In Part 2 of these excerpts from Lost My Partner – What’ll I Do?, we suggested ways you could relieve yourself of some of the guilt you and your family may struggle with as a result of your partner’s suicide.

Here are additional important points to consider:

1) Children tend to blame themselves when a parent dies, even though they may not express it openly or be aware of it themselves. Recognizing this can be difficult, because, unlike most adults, children show they’re upset by their behavior, rather than by talking. A child may especially prone to self-blame, in the case of suicide. Children need to be given simple, truthful explanations of what has happened. It’s best to tell them how it happened, or they will fantasize about all sorts of frightening possibilities. Consider having your child/children work with a mental health professional to deal with this trauma.

2) Because it’s common for family members to blame the surviving spouse for either causing or not preventing the suicide, it’s helpful to talk about your feelings with supportive people outside your family. Join a specialized support group, if there is one available. The American Association of Suicidology (suicidology.org), provides information to survivors about support groups, books and specialists. Also check out Survivors of Suicide Loss (soslsd.org) for support options.

3) Despite the feelings of shame it may bring, it’s best to be truthful with yourself and others about how your spouse/partner died. Creating a face-saving “cover-up” will only complicate and further delay working through your mourning process.

4) As clergy, in general, have become more aware of and influenced by the field of psychology and suicidology, they’ve developed more sensitivity to the issue of suicide. If you’re otherwise comfortable talking with your religious advisor, you can turn to them despite an “official” doctrine about suicide.

5) Write your feelings in a journal or as a letter to your spouse.

IMPORTANT REMINDER: If you or someone you know is seriously thinking about taking his/her own life, tell someone immediately! Call the Operator to reach your local suicide hotline and/or go to suicidepreventionlifeline.org to talk to a trained telephone counselor 24/7.

8/10/17

lost my partner to suicide; part 2: lifting some of the burden off yourself


In part 1 of these excerpts from Lost My Partner – What’ll I Do? we discussed many of the common reactions you, as a survivor, may have experienced due to your late partner’s suicide.

Here are ways to relieve yourself and your family of some guilt:

1) Your spouse/partner exercised a choice and ultimately was the only one to have the power to act on that choice. If there was anger at you or anyone else, there were more effective ways he/she could have chosen to communicate feelings.

2) You are not to blame for something as complex as another person’s act of suicide. A multitude of factors, such as personality, self-esteem, family history, and the ability to deal with life’s stresses all contributed to your partner’s behavior.

3) You may be turning the anger you feel about your spouse/partner’s abandonment inward onto yourself. This can take the form of guilt and self-blame at being helpless to stop a suicide. It is not disloyal to be angry at people we love when their actions cause us pain.

4) A suicide note reflects only what your spouse/partner happened to be feeling at the time it was written. Try not to view it as a generalization about your entire past relationship.

Look for more tips in Part 3.

8/7/17

lost my partner to suicide; part 1


(Excerpted from our book, Lost My Partner – What’ll I Do?)

Part 1

You as the Survivor

“She seemed okay. Why didn’t she tell me she was feeling so depressed?”

“He often said life wasn’t worthwhile, but I didn’t think he’d ever kill himself.”

The aftermath of suicide can be especially difficult to cope with because it can leave you, as a survivor, feeling:

- Confused, guilty and self-blaming about why this act was committed or that you may have been responsible.

- Believing that you weren’t valuable and/or powerful enough to prevent someone choosing to die.
- Shamed by the attitudes and questions of family, friends and the police.

- Concerned about your clergyperson’s reaction, as some religions regard suicide as a sin.

- Worried about what to tell your child/children about the circumstances.

Expect your mourning process to take somewhat longer, because of the added burden of all of the above.

In Parts 2 and 3, we’ll offer ways to cope with all of the above.

8/3/17

can't stop crying




That might sound like title of a country western song, but it’s all too real an experience when your spouse/partner has died.

After my husband’s death, I felt like the tears would never stop.

I remember being at work, in social situations, or just driving and finding myself unexpectedly tearing up. Caught off-guard and often embarrassed, I’d head for the nearest private place (like a restroom or quiet street), to try to pull myself together.

I realize some people consider crying a form of self-pity.

But I’ve learned that tears are nature’s way of helping us release tension. The best way to do the mourning is to do the grieving. And that means every tear helps.

So trust yourself. Your mind does have a shut-off valve.

How have you handled these situations?

Ruth


7/27/17

cooking for one; part 1: how do i cook for myself?




If you’re used to preparing meals for two, cooking for one can feel like an uncomfortable adjustment to make.

Or, if your late spouse/partner used to handle most or all of the cooking in your relationship, you may be at a loss as to how to manage meals for yourself.

In either case, we encourage you to acquire new skills.

While many people, especially men, resort to unhealthy snack foods, frozen dinners and/or meals out, learning some basic cooking skills can be a healthier, cheaper and ultimately confidence building alternative.

Here are some suggestions:

1) Purchase books or go online to learn about basic cooking skills or recipes designed for one.

2) Consider taking a class at a local culinary school and/or adult extension courses.

3) Ask a trusted relative or neighbor to show you how to prepare some basic recipes.

4) Have a friend or neighbor take you grocery shopping to familiarize yourself with neighborhood stores and how to select produce and meats.


Please share any suggestions or experiences you’d had in dealing with these kitchen dilemmas.

In Part 2, we’ll offer reading suggestions and useful online sites .

7/24/17

a young widow's perspective on financial planning




This information is by Sandi Duffy, a widowed mom with young children. We’re impressed by the sound advice Sandi offers in Financial Planning for Widowed Moms.

According to Sandi,"Once the funeral is over, you are left to pick up the pieces of your life and your children's lives. How are you going to do this? Where do you even start?

It's a cold hard fact that you need money to live, pay the bills, feed your children, etc. The first and most important thing you can do for yourself and your children is to gather all your late husband's assets, bank accounts, retirement funds, life insurance, etc. and get yourself to a certified financial planner. I cannot emphasize enough the word Certified Financial Planner. Not a friend of a friend of a friend who claims to be good with money. I had a colleague at work tell me she is really good with finances and would do mine. Really? Would she be able to tell me how to invest my money, so that I can draw an income from it every month? Would she be able to project how much college will cost in 18 years and then advise me how to invest, so that I can fund my children's educations?

Go to a real certified financial planner, someone who is highly recommended by more than one person. If you are unsure, interview a few of them. I spoke to three before I chose the one I am currently using.

The next most important thing is to find a good lawyer who specializes in wills and trusts. Again, find one who specializes in wills and trusts. My husband and I used a real estate attorney to do our wills, living wills, and durable power of attorney (POA). Thankfully we didn't have to use the POA because when I went to a lawyer who specializes in this, he told me it was all wrong and never would have been honored.

This is critical if you have young children. I have a trust set up that in the event of my death, the children receive one quarter of my estate at 25, one quarter at 30 and the remaining balance at 35. It names who will become their guardians and who will control the money they inherit.

Also, the amount of paperwork dealing with your spouse's estate that has to be filed with the IRS is daunting. Let an attorney handle it all.

I know it seems cold, but you really need to take care of the financial part of your spouse's death. It's also a good distraction. I recommend two books that specifically deal with financial issues for women: David Bach's Smart Women Finish Rich and Suze Orman's Women and Money."

Sandi goes on to say," 'They' say not to make any big decisions for a year. That's probably a good idea. If financially you can keep your house, keep it. I couldn't even think about packing up my house, showing it to strangers, uprooting my kids, finding new childcare...the list is endless.

If you don't need to make more money, don't switch jobs. I remember calling my former boss for a letter of reference, thinking I needed to make more money for our family. She grudgingly wrote the letter, not because she had negative feelings towards me, but she didn't think it was a good idea for me to make a change so soon. I remember her telling me she would write it, but hoped I would be calling her in a few years to update it because I didn't use the first one. She was right. I kept my job.

Changing jobs, moving, and losing a spouse (through divorce or death) are the three biggest stressors. Try to deal with just one at a time."

Sandi Duffy was widowed in October 2007 when her 44-year-old husband succumbed to Pancreatic Cancer.