Categories
Giving Support Grief/Dispair Widower Awareness

Just Show Up!

Jim Winner

I have had an interesting two weeks. Last Saturday, one of my best friend’s wife died from Glioblastoma. If you know this beast, you know it is a terrible diagnosis with a brutal prognosis. Over the past several months, we have spent a lot of time on his porch, talking, drinking wine, and sharing experiences as caregivers as well as survivors.

Last week, I had the privilege of meeting with two young widowers for lunch and coffee. Both men are raising young children, have important jobs and have lost their wives in their 30’s and 40’s. I appreciated listening to their stories of loss and discovering their new normal. We had the opportunity to talk about reinvention, renewal, rebirth, and restoration. These are young men with a lifetime of children to raise, dreams to fulfill and hopes to achieve.

Last night, I received news that my longtime friends’ wife, who has been doing well battling lymphoma, just learned that a recent PET scan shows recurring and new cancer growth. I will be on the phone with him later this morning. He was a pillar for me during my journey. His presence did and does show up daily. He even traveled from Seattle to Indianapolis for Joyce’s celebration of life service.

I have shared before about how grateful I am for people who have showed up for me during my journey. I appreciate the occasional card that just says

“hey…thinking of you “ or a phone call from a friend who wants to come over, sit on the porch and eat donuts. Recently, I have been most thankful for a friend who reached out several months ago on Facebook. This person, who I have known since 1993, has become a real ray of sunshine to me. These people showed up and continue to show up.

I believe, at the end of the day, we are called to show up. We are called to just be there for each other. If there is any group of people that should be sensitive to the unspoken needs of others, it is us. We know that no one walks in our shoes but us. We also know that there are a lot of people out there who are fighting their own battles, especially in these crazy times of corona virus, politics, natural disasters, and 2020 in general.

I am going to start to try to look for places where I can show up. I want to look for opportunities to simply connect with people who need it. I want to be there to hear what my friends are going through. Thankfully, we do not have to know all the answers. That is for a professional. All we must do is encourage, support and listen.

I have learned that my load is considerably lighter when I help someone else lift theirs. It’s a tender and fulfilling part of life. I hope you look for opportunities to be there for people who just need a sounding board or listening post. It is good stuff.

Be well, brothers. Choose Joy Today.

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Jim Winner’s thoughts appear every other Thursday. You can write to him by Private Messenger.

Categories
Mental/Emotional Health Self-care Simplify

Simplify, Simplify, Simplify!

Jim Winner

Last month, I spent 12 days with my daughter in Oregon. We rented an AirBnB. We enjoyed a lot of time in the mountains of the Willamette and Deschutes National Forests. She’s an avid hiker, and like me, loves the outdoors. The more time I spent in the woods, the more I felt myself really savoring the experience of getting in touch with nature.  We trekked to several waterfalls, some very remote lakes, and saw things that I had never seen before. As you fellow dads can imagine, it was a special and meaningful experience.

When I got back to the Indiana flat lands, I found myself in a state of restlessness. I was antsy and unsettled. I wanted to be back in those woods. I missed those mountains. There is something about the forest that brought me a sense of deep and real peace. It was joyous. It was simple. There was no cell phone service, no internet, and no Facebook. ( sorry, Herb )

As I was thinking about my time in the woods, I decided to re-read an old favorite book of mine. The book is Walden by Henry David Thoreau. It was written in 1854 and chronicled his time living in a cabin on Walden Pond in Massachusetts. It’s been a real treat, to once again, read those words about what he believed really mattered in life. Many of his thoughts are as applicable today as they were in the mid-1800s.  The highlight of the book is his call for a simple life. “Simplify, Simplify, Simplify!” is his cry throughout. My favorite quote was, “If a man does not keep up with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer.” That really struck a chord with me. As we move through our respective journeys, we all hear our own drummer. That’s what we need to listen to. We only need to keep up with him. No one else. What works for one of us probably will not work for all of us. Friends be reminded, this is your journey. It is a journey you’re taking with guidance and support, but with no navigation app or road map. Listen to your drummer. Take this journey at your own pace.

Thoreau’s call to simplify really impacted me as well. It motivated me to start on some long overdue de-cluttering projects. (the same ones I have meant to do since March) It led me to think about the things that occupy my time and take up valuable space in my mind and my life. What the message of simplification has done is encouraged me to do some shifting in where I will be focusing my energy. I am working on moving towards doing less of the things I “like” to do and concentrate on doing more of the things I “love” to do. I am cutting back on things that bring me temporary happiness and focusing on things that bring me a deeper sense of joy.

We have all learned how important it is to stay busy during the grieving process. I agree with that. I would also suggest that busyness for the sake of being busy does not do anyone any good. Maybe we need to save and intentionally schedule some time to take care of ourselves. A walk in the woods can do wonders, so can a bike ride with your kids. An evening at home with a book can be wonderfully healing. Find something that brings you a sense of joy and instills a sense of purpose and accomplishment. Keep it simple!

Perhaps, if we start saying yes to less, it will open the door of what really matters. I believe it could have significance in our lives and the lives of those around us. I am willing to try. Are you?

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Jim Winner’s thoughts can be seen here every other Thursday.  You can write him by Private Messenger

Categories
Family Giving Support

Thanks, Dad. You taught me well.

Jim Winner

My father’s birthday was a couple of days ago. He would have been 91. He died in an auto accident nearly ten years ago. He’s been on my mind a lot this week.

As a young boy, I remember the bookshelf in his office. It was filled with books from Norman Vincent Peale, Og Mandino, Dale Carnegie, and Earl Nightingale. For you youngsters, these were all great motivational writers from the 1950s and ’60s who stressed the importance of positive attitudes in all areas of life. My dad was in sales and marketing in one form or fashion his entire life. He had the most positive attitude of anyone I have ever known.

I couldn’t have been more than 12 or 13 when he insisted I read books by the above-referenced authors. I tried to understand terms like enthusiasm, persistence, dedication. That’s not exactly the subject matter young boys are interested in. I remember sitting in the living room with him, trying to talk to me about the importance of always having a positive attitude.  I remember him speaking about how things would happen in life that we can control, and things will happen that we cannot control. “No matter how bad it gets,” he used to say, “never give up your dream.” Many years later, I once watched him in a courtroom where a judge ruled, in a big way, against his company. He looked at me, shrugged his shoulders, and said, “it’s only money; we can make more.” In the best of times, he was humble. In the worst of times, he was positive. He had faith in God and in his own ability to succeed, and he did.

I got to looking at some of the books from those long-ago days. As I was looking through names and titles, I found myself going back in time 50+ years to our conversations on the living room couch. I’m once again reminded that some things never change.

Earl Nightingale’s works were my favorite. I’ve enjoyed being reacquainted with his books this week. I found a few quotes that apply to us all.

One of my favorites is, “We all walk in the dark. Each of us must learn to turn on his own light”. That resonates with me. While the darkness of grief may not have been what he was referring to, it certainly applies.

I know from reading many of your posts that some dear brothers are in dark places these days.  I hope and pray that you find your light. Light can come in many different things and forms, but it’s out there. Don’t stop looking for it.

My other Nightingale favorite is “Learn to enjoy every minute of your life. Be happy now! Don’t wait for something outside of yourself to make you happy in the future. Think how precious time is. Enjoy and savor every minute.” That friend says it all. Words written over 50 years ago are more important today than ever.

People often tell me they’re proud of how positive I am and how well I am doing in this life journey. I appreciate their sentiments and now really appreciate those long-ago conversations on the living room couch with my father.

Thanks, dad! I guess I was listening.

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Jim Winner’s thoughts can be viewed here every other Thursday.

Categories
Children COVID-19 Family Health Moving Forward

What’s behind your mask?

Jim Winner

I just got back from a trip to Oregon. I had the privilege of spending ten days with my 34-year-old daughter. It was wonderful. Spending time with an adult child is a rewarding and meaningful experience. We shared many long conversations when we discussed some real hard life topics. Us dads all know how precious those times are.

Everywhere I went, I saw people wearing masks. No question, it’s a necessary sign of the times. It’s something we must do until we figure this corona-virus out. I don’t know about you, but I miss seeing the face behind the mask, I miss enjoying the smile of the person I’m talking to. I miss the expression on a person’s face. I want to know who’s behind that mask. I want to know what they’re feeling. I want to see them, not just a piece of them.

I believe we tend to wear different masks as we journey through the grief process. I know in my early stages of grief, for the first few months after Joyce’s passing, I tended to try to take on a lot by myself. I admit that I tried to mask a lot of how I was feeling. I’m very fortunate that I have friends and family who kept reaching out to me during that time. It’s easy to shut ourselves off and try to tough it out. That won’t work. We want to “man up” and not let others see our real emotions or situation. I think this is particularly true in the first several months after a loss. That’s when we’re most confused and tend to internalize everything. That won’t work either.

Masks can offer protection from the unwanted. Masks can serve as a filter, literally and figuratively. Masks can also hide what we don’t want to share with others.

I see all kinds of ads on Facebook for masks. Who would have ever thought they’d be the must-have fashion accessory for 2020? But then again, 2020 hasn’t exactly gone the way anyone expected.

When it comes to the physical masks, I’d recommend that you follow whatever protocol keeps you compliant and makes you confident, comfortable, and keeps you and those around you safe.

When it comes to emotional masks, I’d like to suggest that we are much better off not wearing them. When someone you trust and care about asks how you are, tell them. Be honest. They’re asking because they care. Share the good, and share the bad. Not even your closest and trusted family member, friend, or ally can help or support you if they don’t know what you need. And if your phone doesn’t ring, don’t feel bad if you’re the one reaching out. Trust me; your closest friends want to help. They want to be there for you. They don’t know what you need unless you tell them. For many of them, this may be their first grief experience as well. Help them be better at what they so desperately want to do, to help you.

So, wear that mask when you need to, but know when it’s time to take it off.

Blessings, Brothers!

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Jim Winner’s thoughts can be found here every other Thursday. You can write him c/o WSN.

Categories
Finding Purpose Giving Support Healing Manful Emotions Mental/Emotional Health Moving Forward

I feel good, is that ok?

Jim Winner

Today is a cool, clear, and beautiful Indiana summer day. As I write this, I am sitting in my courtyard, listening to the birds sing. The flowers are in full bloom, and kids wave to me as they ride their bikes by my house. It all feels right. I feel good. But wait. Is that ok? Is it alright to be happy? Should I feel guilty because I feel good? I know that answer. So do you. But if you’re like me, sometimes a little reminding is in order.

During Joyce’s illness and prognosis, she had many opportunities to share her hopes and wishes for my life after she was gone. Those of you who have had these conversations know they are extremely difficult, hard to listen to, and even harder to accept. But accept them we must, because that reality is here. I would dare to say that each of our wives had the same wish for us. That wish was simple. It was for us to keep living. I remember the day Joyce took my hands, looked me in the eyes, and said, “Keep living. Don’t stop being happy”. As I look back on that conversation, I marvel that even in her final weeks and days, she was worried about me. I know many of you who are reading this are nodding in agreement because your wives said the same thing to you. For those brothers whose wives passed away suddenly, you know they also had the same wish. You were happy with your wife. Their wish was for your life to continue. They wanted you to find your happiness. They wanted you to keep going.

I do not believe that anyone can bring us happiness. Our happiness is our responsibility. If we aren’t happy with ourselves, it’s not reasonable for us to ask someone else to make us happy. Not only is it unreasonable, but it’s also a recipe for disaster. As I continue my journey, I have come to understand that there’s room for grief and happiness at the same time. Those two words are not mutually exclusive. The grief process we go through relates to what was lost and what never will be. At the same time, the quest for happiness involves what is and what is yet to be. Friends, the good news is there’s room for both.

I endeavor to choose happiness every day. Please know I don’t say that flippantly. I am mindful of how much time I spend watching the news. I am intentional in the tone of the conversations I have with my friends and neighbors. I always wave back and stop to talk when I see those kids on their bikes. I invest in the rebuilding of my life. I choose to smile even when I don’t feel like smiling. Dale Carnegie once said, “If you act enthusiastic, you will become enthusiastic.” I believe that is especially true for how we deal with happiness.

We all have people and things that make us happy. Make time for both. Maybe yours is time with family and friends, walking, reading, cooking, building things, or playing a round of golf. Whatever allows you to focus on something positive, and in the future, I encourage you to do it. Thank God, we can look to the future without ever sacrificing the memory of the past. That’s a real blessing.

I hope you choose happiness today.

Categories
Finding Purpose Giving Support Healing Learning new skills Maintaining a Home Moving Forward Uncategorized

“A rose by any other name”

Jim Winner

Joyce was always my biggest cheerleader. Many years ago, she encouraged me to become a Master Gardener. The process was a great experience and I learned a lot. Joyce loved our garden. She was proud of my work, and I delighted in creating a beautiful space for us. In the past several weeks, I’ve spent countless hours in that special place. The work of cleaning, weeding, planting and pruning has been good therapy. I enjoy my time in the garden.

At the end of March, I gave my roses a hard pruning. I removed the dead or weak branches and left 5 or 6 of the strongest canes on each plant. I mixed in some new amended soil around the base of the roses, added some feed and nutrients and began the waiting process. As I look at the roses today, I see plants that are healthy. They’re growing, reaching upwards, and if I do say so myself…are looking pretty good.

Like my roses, we all got a hard pruning when our wives passed away. We didn’t ask for it, but a big part of our life no longer existed. We found that part of our life was removed from us. The longer we were together the more of us got pruned away. Sounds familiar, doesn’t it? A part of us dies with our spouses, but a large part of us is left to renew, recover, regrow and restore.

After a pruning, no rose grows back to be the same plant it was. Canes and new branches grow in different directions. The shapes and sizes are different. The plant may produce more or less flowers depending on many environmental factors. Pests or disease may thwart and impede the health of the plant. With the right care and attention (and a little bit of luck) roses can come back after hard pruning to once again be healthy, vibrant, and full of life. So, can we.

Compare our journeys to these roses. We have endured a difficult and dark winter season. We have had to suffer through our own hard and undoubtedly severe pruning. Here is the good news. We survived. New growth can and does begin to emerge. Hopefully, the deep roots we have shared will keep us strong and hold us steady. Our loved ones, while no longer with us, will always be a part of who we are. They will always help to shape us. Perhaps our feeding and nourishment comes from this group of men. Certainly, our friends, our families, our faith and many other sources of support and resources are available to us. Keep yourself physically, emotionally and spiritually fed. Stay positive. Keep the pests and diseases away. With time, we can all grow again. We won’t be the same men we were. Personally, I hope to become a better man.

No, I’m not saying any of us are as pretty as a rose…and like a rose, I am sure we can all be a bit prickly and thorny from time to time. It is my hope and prayer that you will join me in believing that even the hardest unwanted pruning can create meaningful and healthy new growth for all of us. 

May we all bloom, dear Brothers.

Categories
Giving Support Moving Forward Self-care

Let’s keep rowing!

Jim Winner

Many times during our journey with Joyce’s cancer, I asked the question, “how did we get here.” How did our lives flip upside down so quickly?

How would our lives look after we got through her illness? Then the questions changed from “we” to “I.”  What real changes do I need to get ready for after this ends? How, then, will I live?  I imagine most of you have asked these same questions and more. After all, we’re all in the same boat.

Well, here we are again. With all the disruptions in the world, I find myself asking the same questions. How did we get here? How will my world change yet again? What will my new normal be when I’m still figuring out my old new normal?  Same questions, same answers. Once again, none of us knows how or why we got here, but here we are. Face masks, hand sanitizers, and toilet paper are treasured commodities. Oil has no value. Go figure. We’re all in the same boat now. Let’s keep rowing.

The question we need to answer is, “now that we’re here, what are we going to do about it?”  How will we change once this ends? How can we learn and be better from this experience? The losses we all continue to process and work through are very hard. Compound that with social distancing and quarantining, and it’s brutally hard. But we press on. We endure. We survive. I’ve been making a conscious effort to be intentional about refocusing my priorities and thinking about how I want to allocate my time and resources to those things I value most. This is a rare time in life. Many of us have more free time than we’ve had in years.  Let’s use that time to our advantage. Consider using this time to think about any changes you might want in how you’re going to live life going forward. Let’s remember the term self-care. We’ve been through and continue to go through life’s most challenging journey. Use some time to be good to yourself. Let’s keep rowing.

I’ve been in sales and marketing all of my business life. I’ve always measured my success by my productivity. This has carried over into my personal life. I don’t believe this is the time for that. Like many of you, when this quarantine started, I made a list of all the things I “needed” to do. That list remains virtually untouched. After all the chaos and upheaval in the world, my list seems insignificant. Somethings that I thought were important don’t seem to matter much now.  If those closets, drawers, and boxes get cleaned out, that’s good.  If they don’t, that’s good too. That list will be there when the time is right.  Our goal right now should be to survive this time with our spiritual, mental, and physical health intact. We brothers of widowhood continue to run our race with endurance. We’re all in the same boat, let’s just keep rowing.

Categories
COVID-19 Finding Purpose Giving Support Health Moving Forward Service

Growing through it

Jim Winner

Good morning brothers! Our nation continues working hard to get through the Coronavirus pandemic. I’m proud of all the front liners serving us all so well. If anyone reading this is a front-line worker, you have my heartfelt appreciation. I also hear people talk about how much they want their old life back. I hear people say, “things will never be the same.” I hear people say how out of control they feel. Does any of this sound familiar to anyone but me? If they’d only ask, I’d be glad to tell them they’re right. They will never get their old life back, life will never be the same, and no, they never were in control of very much. WE know that.

I think it’s very interesting the pandemic is coming right during the Easter season. Like most of you, I find myself being home a lot more. I have time to think about what’s important to me. I have time to think about how I want to be different after this all ends. By the way, it will end. I’ve seen more of my neighbors (from a safe distance) in the past two weeks than I have in the past six months! I’ve had good phone calls with friends from long ago. I’ve been much more aware of the need for community, and the importance of people in my life. I’ve been able to focus on taking care of me. I don’t want to lose any of that. It gives me hope that things won’t be the same. They may be better. We, collectively, may remember what’s important in life. I hope so.

In the Christian faith, this is Holy Week. This is the last week of Jesus’ life on earth. Tomorrow is what’s known as a good Friday. It’s the day of His crucifixion. We mourn that death. Three days later, on Easter Sunday, we celebrate His resurrection. We are reminded of our hope and promise of life eternal. I am comforted in my faith knowing that one day I will see my wife again. That’s a reason to celebrate.

This will be my first Easter without my beloved Joyce. Our house would have been decorated with all things Easter. She enjoyed family gatherings, coloring eggs with the neighbor kids, and lived her life as an Easter person, full of faith, hope, and love. I know many of you are going through your first Easter without your wives. I encourage you to have hope that you will continue to grow during the grief process. If Easter is a part of your belief, I know you will rest in the hope that you will see her smiling face again.

Wishing you all continued health and healing! ( wash your hands! )

Categories
Faith/Religion Finding Purpose Giving Support Grief/Dispair Healing Moving Forward

And suddenly… It’s spring!

Jim Winner

As I write this, I’m getting ready to leave Naples and head back to Carmel, Indiana. I’ve been here about 10 weeks. It’s been extremely healing and renewing. When I got here the first week of January all the flowers were blooming. I didn’t see them. The sun was shining everywhere, except on me. As I shared with you in an earlier column, the first week was brutal. But I decided, no matter what, I would stay here and experience my first Florida winter without Joyce. I’m glad I did.

Good things happened. People I hadn’t been in touch with for a long time reached out when they were in the area. I reconnected with a longtime friend of mine who I’ve known since first grade. Several of my neighbors invited me to have lunch or dinner with them. I was blessed to share many an afternoon and evening with dear friends, old and new. I learned a valuable lesson this winter. That lesson is, in this season of life, it’s important to stay engaged with those around you. I believe an even more important lesson is to be open to new things. Accept that invitation to share a meal, get a cup of coffee, or visit favorite fishing spots. Be prepared and willing to experience new things.

We’ve all been through and are going through our own individual winter seasons, literally and figuratively. Emotionally, I’m sure we all have had some cold and dark times. I find my spirits lifted as I consider spring and all it holds. I’m looking forward to many things. I’m excited about re-joining my beloved church choir, preparing to celebrate Christ’s resurrection, and knowing what that means to me. I’m excited about getting back in my garden. I’m an avid gardener, and last summer, because of Joyce’s illness and subsequent death, I had no interest in it. I’m excited at the prospect of being able to witness the beauty of spring in Indiana. I look forward to being on the golf course with my best friends. I look forward staying open to new things. I can’t wait to hear the sound of the neighborhood kids playing, see greening of the grass and the blossoms of my favorite trees. Spring is life. Spring manifests beauty. I feel a personal season of spring starting. I hope you do as well. Life is beautiful. Let’s live it.

Categories
Giving Support Grief/Dispair Healing Moving Forward

Make today a real winner…

Jim Winner

I’m a fan of the cartoon character Charlie Brown. I believe he was one of the first to utter the term “good grief” on TV. In Charlie’s case, “good grief” was his catchphrase, his favorite way of saying he was bummed out or fed up. In our collective cases, however, good grief may have a whole new meaning.

I was describing a busy day here in Naples to one of my dear friends earlier this week. Her reply was, “ it sounds like a glorious day… Good grief!“ I thought about the term good grief. I realize that grief can, in fact, and will, eventually, be good. It’s hard to believe that anything that comes to us through such a brutal experience can have any good associated with it. But I think it can… Let me share the reasons why.

I’m a little over eight months into my grief journey. Like many of you, I’ve read several books on grief. I have attended grief share programs. I’ve sat across the desk from grief counselors. I’ve shed more tears of grief than I thought humanly possible. I’ve benefited greatly from our Facebook page. I’ve leaned on my tribe. I’ve bared my soul to my closest friends, and I’ve told my story to anyone who will listen! (sometimes more than once) My grief journey has allowed me to share my experience with many people. I love talking about my late wife. I find telling people about her life to be very healing. It’s all part of good grief.

We all know grief is a process, a means to an end. For us to get through this experience, we must embrace the process of grief. We need to come to terms that our old normals are not our new normals. We need to accept the fact that our loved one is no longer with us. We need to embrace the good news that we still have a life to live. We all know that is what our wives would want. The process of grief becomes good because it allows us to take the time and find the space we need to pick ourselves up, find our footing, and retake our place in society. Grief becomes good grief when we realize that while our loved ones are no longer with us physically, they will always be a beautiful part of our lives. Grief is good because it’s NOT permanent. It’s meant to be gone through, not lived in permanently. It’s a journey, not a destination.

When I wake up and look forward to the day, that’s “good grief.”

When I’m happy, and in the company of friends, that’s “good grief.”

When I remember her radiant, loving smile, that’s “good grief.”

When I look to the future, without forgetting the past, that’s “good grief.”

My wish for you today is that you experience some “ good grief.”