Suzanne used to tell me that she enjoyed cleaning the house. She would say, “I don’t mind cleaning the house if you will… (insert chore here).”
Over this past weekend, I celebrated the first anniversary of moving into my own house. I moved in four days after the first death anniversary, so it was a pretty eventful time.
At that time, I also owned a rental property here in my town that housed a family of people I knew. The family included my regular house cleaner, her husband, and their two sons.
They used to come to clean my house twice a month. It was great for me because I didn’t have to do much. And the house was regularly clean, tidy, fresh, and relaxing.
Then, after CoVID hit, they had to stop coming. Now, they no longer live in my rental house, and they can no longer do the cleaning here. My regular cleaner has been ill. She had cancer a number of years ago, and although I do not know the whole of the story, I believe it has returned.
Since March, I have been responsible for cleaning my own home. It’s the first time that I have indeed been in charge of cleaning the whole of a house. And, in all honesty, I cannot for the life of me figure out what Suzanne saw in it. It’s a major pain!
So, today I have a new cleaner coming. It is a milestone for me since I have not had anyone who I haven’t known come to the property to clean. It will be something new and different.
Back when Suzanne was ill, I tried to get a cleaner to come to the house, so it would be clean and tidy when she came back from chemo and other doctor’s appointments. Right now, I would be overjoyed to have that opportunity again. I would love for someone to come and clean the house so that Suzanne didn’t have to even if it meant she had to find another chore to choose for her to perform.
But like the house itself, and my new life in it, this will never happen. I am in the first home that I have ever owned without her. And it’s the first where I have my own cleaner and keep the house as I want it, not like Suzanne would have had it (it’s far too messy too much of the time for her liking). But still, I wonder if she would have liked to keep cleaning this house had she and I moved here together.
Would she still want to clean the house if she knew we could afford to have someone come and do it for us instead? Would she prefer to have done it herself, or would she have let someone else do it?
I know her. She would have cleaned before the cleaner came. Suzanne would never let anyone into the house if it were a mess, not even the cleaners. And guess what? I spent last night cleaning and tidying tonight in anticipation of the cleaner coming this morning. Just like Suzanne would have done.
Jeff Ziegler insights appear every two weeks, here on WSN-MO. You can write to him at Jeff.email@example.com. Cell: 1-415-623-8772. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org LinkedIn Profile URL: http://www.linkedin.com/in/jeffziegler
Often, our gift to this world–the thing we are here to do–is the thing we tend to fear or dislike the most. Scary how that works. I wanted to be a writer. Here I am writing a blog, not a book.
What did you want to be when you grew up? I used to ask pretty much everyone I knew. For Suzanne, it was a criminologist or a forensic scientist (long before becoming fashionable or used as source material for TV shows, movies, and real crime dramas).
Suzanne was many things in her lifetime. Her bachelor’s degree in sociology and master’s in criminology never really contributed much to her career. Fate intervened. She assisted on a “criminal profiling research project” at the UK’s Home Office before we got married. It was the first and last time she ever worked in the field. She worked as a relocation agent, a case manager for the Crown Prosecution Service, as a baker, an advocate for surrogacy and adoption, and as a catering manager.
Suzanne was a wonderful friend to so many. She was a very open and gregarious person. Her smile would light up a room when she walked in. But she struggled with a purpose in life until only a few months before she died. She found yoga. She trained and qualified as a yoga instructor just days before her final diagnosis.
In the months after she died, I struggled to find meaning and purpose. It took me a long time, but once I found it, I really dove in.
The struggle to find purpose and meaning in life is real. So many of us stick it out in dead-end jobs, struggling to make ends meet. We have had great relationships, but our spouse/partner is dead, so now we struggle to find new people to share our life. I am on a new path. A journey of discovery, and that means being open to the infinite possibilities available in any given moment.
My role now is to pass on the lessons I have learned as I continue to walk on this journey. A Native American legend describes two paths we can choose to take through our life–a red path and a black path. The black path is the road most of us take (and the one both Suzanne and I traveled for most of our lives). It’s the path that requires little thought and even less “presence.” The red path is the path of consciousness, presence, meaningful existence–living from a purpose.
As Frost described it, this is the path less traveled by:
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood, And sorry I could not travel both And be one traveler, long I stood And looked down one as far as I could To where it bent in the undergrowth;
Then took the other, as just as fair, And having perhaps the better claim, Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there Had worn them really about the same, And both that morning equally lay In leaves no step had trodden black. Oh, I kept the first for another day! Yet knowing how way leads on to way, I doubted if I should ever come back.
I shall be telling this with a sigh Somewhere ages and ages hence: Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—I took the one less traveled by, And that has made all the difference.
Jeff Ziegler insights can be found every two weeks here on WSN-MO.
In the year after our twin daughters were born, we got a golden retriever puppy we named Charlie. Everyone always says they have “the best dog ever,” but in my opinion, Charlie indeed was. When the girls were young, they could pull on his ears, his tail, his fur, just about any part of him, and he would never complain, growl or groan.
Charlie became a fixture of our lives. He was a part-time babysitter, part-time guard dog, part-time walking buddy, part-time entertainment, and part of the reason why we constantly had to clean the house.
Charlie crossed the rainbow bridge in 2012 at the ripe old age of 13. He had “good innings” as one of my best friends described it. But after having put him down, because he was in pain and was suffering from numerous ailments, I could not stop feeling guilty about it. For the longest time, I questioned whether it was the right thing to do if I had prematurely cut his time with us if I had somehow let him down.
While we had Charlie, we also gained a Monty and Murphy. Monty, an English Cocker Spaniel, was a Christmas present for the family in 2005, and Murphy was my 40th birthday present from Suzanne.
In the month before Suzanne died, we said goodbye to her little buddy, Monty. He was 13-years old and had been diagnosed with cancer and kidney failure. He was forever getting small growths on his body (so much so, over the years that I had taken to nickname and call him “wart dog”)… but he was her constant companion through the first two bouts with cancer, the surgeries, and the treatments.
Losing Monty was a big psychological blow to Suzi as she was entering her final battle. We also had a cat named Harry, an 8-year old grey tabby, who had to be put down less than a week after we lost Monty. It was a time of great grief and loss, along with the treatments Suzanne was undergoing, not a lot of time, energy, or head-space for grief.
But it wasn’t until long after Suzi died that I was able to grieve the loss of our precious fur kids as well as her. Yes, I see people post things about losing their pets, and for some, it’s like losing a child (especially for people who have never been able to have children). So their grief and the grief they feel about losing a fur-kid is no less than that of what we feel when losing a person.
The unconditional love and affection that our pets offer is a source of both comfort and joy in our lives. When we love a pet, we can learn to love ourselves and our people better. There is a mug that my daughter has with a quote that says, “I can only hope to be the person my dog believes I am.” And yet, we are. Our dogs see us that way, all we need to do is open our eyes, and we can see ourselves that way.
Since Suzanne died, I adopted a young pup. His name is Kohl, and he’s a bit of a handful. He’s a nearly two-year-old German shepherd/lab mix who was found wandering the “mean streets” of LA as a tiny pup, sent to a county shelter before making his way to a German shepherd rescue (where I found and adopted him).
His companionship and unconditional love and gratitude for having a forever home have been a huge part of my healing process. Maybe it was the fact he was abandoned when he was so young and needed so much care and attention. Perhaps it was because I was feeling abandoned and needed someone who could love me unconditionally, as Suzi did.
Whatever the reason, I found a kindred spirit in my new best friend. The problem is, my old best friend—my nearly 12-year old chocolate lab, Murphy—has suffered a little at the hands (paws?) of Kohl (far too much ear tugging, some serious roughhousing, and general tormenting). Still, we look at each other, knowing that there is so much love in our lives for each other. And that is what I sensed was needed in my life at that moment. Today, I have a new person in my life who loves and is loved by my fur-kids, my human kids and by me.
Getting the chance to love again, and being shown the way through the unconditional love of a pet, has helped me heal. It has helped me open my heart back to the possibility of loving and being loved by a new person, and to my fur kids, I am truly grateful.
Jeff Ziegler can be seen every two weeks here on WSN-MO. You can write Jeff at Jeff.email@example.com.
These last couple of months, while we have been sheltering in place here in California, I have had the pleasure of joining in on a zoom call and playing poker with a group of friends I have known for many years. These aren’t just friends; they are my fraternity brothers from my days at UC Santa Barbara (which ended four years before I met and married Suzanne).
Some of these brothers knew her. Most did not because despite being close in college, we all went our ways—and I lived abroad for nearly 20-years after college, so I did not see many of them (other than on Facebook) for many years. There were exceptions, but not many.
Seeing and spending time with “the boys” has been refreshing. It has made me relive some of my youth—remembering all the awful things we used to do, like drinking, cussing, teasing, etc. But it has also been an excellent opportunity to reconnect more deeply. To bring together brothers who shared experiences in college that shaped us into the men we became.
I have been able to play every two weeks for the last two months, except for when my new partner came out from Kansas City to visit two weeks ago (after travel restrictions to California were lifted by her work). It has helped to keep me sane at this time when I have not seen or able to connect with people in person.
At times during the games, we do get serious and start chatting about deeper level emotional and spiritual things (while we are playing)—of course, that’s in between the teasing and the banter. And it seems that so many of my brothers keep asking me about finding passion and purpose in their lives.
The thing is, in my life, and my most recent experience as a widower, I’ve seen so many people make the same mistake I used to make: stay in dead-end jobs with low pay solely for the sake of “security,” wasting years of their lives doing something they just don’t love. To me, that’s just backward.
Why do we waste so much time sticking with stuff we don’t genuinely care about? Is it the money? Is it recognition? Is it the health benefits? Is it truly for “security?” I just don’t know.
Of my fraternity brothers, I am one of the very few that is genuinely “self-employed.” And I love what I do. No, I don’t get health benefits, and I don’t want or ask for recognition. Nor do I have much security. But I do get to do something that I am genuinely passionate about and care about. I get to serve and help other widows and widowers.
And I wonder why we aren’t all doing something that we truly love? And I think of all the times I wish I could have been at home with Suzanne, working on something I was passionate about and loved to do instead of wasting all those years complaining and moaning about dead-end jobs and long commutes.
I’m considering putting together a free program on how to get unstuck from the thinking that is holding us back from being happier and living our purpose and passion. Would this be of interest to any of my fellow widower brothers? It seems to resonate with some of my fraternity brothers, and let’s face it; you guys are my fraternity now.
If this seems like a good idea, then please DM me with your thoughts or message me here in the group. Or, if you have any other ideas for anything better, then please let me know!
Jeff Ziegler can be seen every two weeks here on WSN-MO. You can write Jeff at Jeff.firstname.lastname@example.org.
Over the last week, I have been hit by several large waves of grief. It has been a long time since I have felt like this.
First, I want to talk about triggers and what I think kicked it off for me, so I’m starting with a bit of a rant here.
Maybe the trigger was the fact that many places are starting to reopen after sheltering in place for COVID-19, and I fear we are about to revert to the type of “normal” we were experiencing prior to the pandemic. If so, then to me, this means we have missed an opportunity. Moreover, the bigger trigger to me is the lack of soul in this country. While there have been so many beautiful stories of people and communities coming together to care for each other, others have shown such contempt and selfishness (and totally inappropriate) behavior despite how much love and care has been shown by many others.
Right now, I feel like the backlash movement (that has started in many parts of the country) is indicative of the way too many Americans feel. It terrifies me that it has only arisen in this country—no other civilized country has experienced armed mobs on their city and state building steps demanding they reopen for the sake of the economy. And our leadership has failed to quell the backlash and these mobs are putting people at risk for the sake of the economy.
In my overactive, grief stricken, triggered mind, I hold our leaders accountable because each and every member of congress and executive has sworn an oath to protect and uphold the Constitution—which specifically states, “WE THE PEOPLE of the United States, in order to create more perfect union” and not, “We the economy of the United States…”.
Maybe I was triggered after I watched “After Life” with Ricky Gervais. If you haven’t seen it, I would recommend watching (it’s on Netflix). It will undoubtedly help you to understand the mind of a widower like me (although he does do and say things to people that I would never imagine myself doing or saying).
Or, maybe it was watching the BBC Radio 1 Live Lounge (from home) version of the Foo Fighter’s “Times Like These” that was released last week. It is one of my all-time favorite songs, and this rendition brought me (and many others) to tears.
Maybe it was just good old-fashioned grief. I was missing Suzanne and I wanted her back. These thoughts and that sense of longing happens a great deal more than I usually acknowledge.
Whatever was the trigger, it made me start to experience this life in a way I have not done in a long time. It has made me say things to myself I would not have imagined saying a few months ago, it has made me feel things I no longer want to feel, and it has compelled me to do things I have not contemplated in a long time.
How did I feel? Frustrated, angry, fearful, longing, missing, empty, sad, abandoned, confused, depressed, devastated, disillusioned, distant and so many other things all at once…
It was almost embarrassing. Over these last few months, I have been far more energetic and fulfilled than I have been in a long time. This bout of grief felt like I was falling backwards.
I was frightened. It was hard for me to feel the feelings, and I was doing my best to avoid the pain. I did not want to be in that space. I no longer want that level of heartache and heartbreak. It’s almost unbearable pain.
So, I lay on the floor of my office last week and I cried. I shouted. I cursed. I told myself it was okay that I am not okay, but the feelings of guilt and the feelings of anger will not change my circumstances.
While much of the time, I am and remain hopeful about my life and about us as a society, the triggers that drove me to feel the way I did last weekend were simply signals to me that things are not always going to work the way I hope. That there will be times when I will know bitterness and disappointment. I will feel like I let myself down (and others).
But the key thing is, I know I can do better and even if it’s a matter of taking a tiny baby step forward and seeing the positivity and being grateful for the tiniest of successes, then that is a start. Will I always be able to overcome these bouts of grief? To quote Brian Wilson, “God Only Knows. And God only knows what I will be without” Suzanne.
(Suzanne Ziegler is pictured below) _________________________________________
Jeff Ziegler can be seen every two weeks here on WSN-MO. You can write Jeff at email@example.com
I want you to know a few things. After Suzanne dies, you will feel like there is little potential of anything ever making your life any better. Did you know that you will be scared, hurting, very much alone (even surrounded by friends and family), completely lost and heartbroken? Please know that although you could potentially just curl up in a ball and die from that heartbreak, you won’t.
Potential is an interesting word. It means, “having or showing the capacity to become or develop into something in the future.” When Suzanne dies, you will feel like there really is no future to develop into.
When that time comes, all you will want to ask yourself is, “What’s the point?” I mean, there won’t be a single thing that truly appeals to you as having any real potential for your future.
Work? You will no longer be interested. Dating? Nope, you will start too soon and be heartbroken again (but luckily, you will meet someone new who will accept you as and where you are). Living? Well… if I am honest with you, the only thing that will keep you waking up every morning and wanting to go on living is your daughters.
Thing is, Jeff, when we grieve hard, our tendency is to spend too much time in our heads. We grieve for the life we had. We grieve for the life we no longer have. And we grieve for the life we had envisioned for the future. You will miss every aspect of that life. You will feel empty without it, and you will be lost.
Because we grieve the primary and secondary losses, we lose not only our vision of a future with our person, but also the vision of our own future without that person. It doesn’t make much sense, I know, but it’s true. Too often, we close ourselves off to any real possibility of achieving our own potential when we are grieving. We tend to lose our core Self. We lose our focus and our center. We forget who and what we are.
When this happens, anyone can be like you will be for so many months after Suzanne dies: you will be floundering, lost, feckless, aimless, self-sabotaging, bleeding all over people who did not cause your wounds, and you will feel like you can’t go on.
But you will keep going. And when you reach the 21-month “Deathaversary”, you will write about how you are a completely different person than you were in those first few days, weeks, months, year and longer after Suzi dies.
Your life will have changed in so many ways that you will no longer recognize yourself. I won’t lie—it will take some SERIOUSLY hard work to completely and radically change your Self. Especially after how deep your grief was, and will be up, as recently as just a few months previous.
Some of the changes will be physical and “superficial.” In 21-months you will have lost 15-lbs, you will grow a beard (you’ll start it for the “November” movement, like it, and keep it). You will travel a lot. You will buy and move into your own home—the first without Suzanne. You will meet someone new.
You will also get laid off from your job—the one you were planning to leave anyway—and you will start your own coaching business designed to help others like you find new purpose in their lives and find ways to work at something that truly makes them passionate. It will be some of the most rewarding and difficult work you will ever do.
But none of the changes you will go through will be bigger than the internal, mental and emotional transformation you will undergo. You will truly begin to self-actualize (defined as “the realization or fulfillment of one’s talents and potentialities; a desire for self-fulfillment, namely, the tendency to actualize one’s own potential”); and you will rediscover your true Self.
You will do all this because becoming self-actualized means you will be fulfilled, doing everything you can to achieve your fullest potential. And you will do all this because you want to be the person that Suzanne would have wanted you to become anyway.
So, in that vein, let me mention what I believe is another meaning for “potential.” That meaning is to release the “latent qualities or abilities that may be developed and lead to future success.” And this is where you will be on the day of Suzanne’s 21-month Deathaversary.
You will be successful, because this letter is meant to help you, Jeff. I want you to understand and know that no matter how desperate things may seem (no matter where you are in your grief journey), there is hope. You can be and become the best version of your self by believing in the potential you have inside to heal and to grow.
While no one is perfect—and you know I believe we are all perfectly imperfect—you will have worked very hard to change. You will have accepted the grief. You will have also accepted that you were not always the best husband or father, and you will have stopped most of the behaviors you exhibited when Suzanne was alive and when the girls were children.
As part of your work, you will forgive and accept your true Self and that will completely change your emotional and spiritual outlook. You are going to be far more present with others (and with your own self) than you ever have been before.
And you will create a true vision—not a dream, but a vision—of the future Self you see inside; and you will want to bring him out to the world. You will like that person very much. That person has the amazing gifts of love and kindness to give to so many other widows and widowers, and to the world.
So now, I will repeat what I just said a few paragraphs ago: there is hope, Jeff. No matter who or what you think you are (and where you may think you are in your grief journey), there is still a chance for you to be and do better with your true self. But it’s not going to be easy. It will nearly “break” you. And you will have to let it. You will shatter the old you and become someone and something better: the best version of you.
Be open, be accepting, and be able to let go of the things you think you wanted. Truly take the time to discover your own purpose, passion and internal power… Those will be the keys to change. The catalyst will be knowing and realizing that truly “you are enough.”
By doing the hard work when it might feel easier to avoid it, you could save yourself a great deal of hurt. And you will set yourself up for a much better life if you choose one.
Dearest, kind, loving, Jeff. You have all my love and hopes for the future you…