Categories
Grief/Dispair Holidays

Valentine’s Day for the broken-hearted

Cynthia

February 14th conjures up images of love and romance. Yet, some of us have only memories to hold on to. How do I celebrate this special day of love without the one I have loved? My heart, which still bursts with love, now feels heavy with pain akin to unrequited love. As much as I love my spouse, I will never hear him say those words, “I love you,” which would so melt my heart. My memories bring me comfort and pain all at once. Therefore, that is not a place I can linger.

The unfailing love of my husband was only promised to me “until death did us part”; all anticipation of eternal love can only be renewed when we meet in eternity. Hopelessness and sadness could be the hallmarks of this and every future Valentine’s Day unless I decide not to let it be so.

Amid my loneliness, I choose to celebrate love – the love I once had, the love I continue to feel in my heart, the love I feel for those I still have in this world, and the only unfailing eternal love: the love of God. There will be sadness mingled with joy. But I am thankful that I once loved and was loved in a way that some can only dream of.

Have a Happy Valentine’s Day – even if it is not all you hoped for, even if it is not perfect, because what you once had and what you continue to have are worth celebrating.

1 John 4:18

There is no fear in love!

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Cynthia Mascarenhas was widowed on February 4, 2018, when she lost her husband of 29 years, Franz Mascarenhas, to a sudden heart attack. Following the passing of Franz, Cynthia founded Walk With A Widow, a non-profit organization whose primary focus if healing the hearts of widows by giving love and hope to widows around the world. As one would expect, much of the material crafted for widows can also be of help to widowers.

Cynthia’s insightful articles will appear periodically here on WSN-MO. You can contact Cynthia at her website, www.walkwithawidow.com

Categories
Children Holidays

Christmas

Nyle Kardatzke

Holidays are an especially hard time for those who are grieving, and Christmas may be the hardest for those who especially love it.

My wife died on October 25, 2010, so Christmas came two months after her death. My three adult children were coming for the holiday with the four young grandchildren we had then, and everyone would stay at my house. I knew that I had to decorate the home to some extent rather than broadcasting to these young people that I was alone, sad, and in shock. Christmas decorating was a project my wife had always led, so now my mind felt like oatmeal and my body seemed leaden. I could hardly go through the motions of testing the lights and putting them up and getting the small, pre-lighted tree from the attic. My decorating was far below my wife’s standards, but it was enough to signal to me and to my kids and grand-kids that life was going on. When my daughters and the grandchildren arrived, it quickly became a real Christmas. The holiday I had dreaded became a step toward the future.

On the third Christmas, after my wife’s death, I was at the home of one of my daughters. It was the first time the children had a grandparent in the house for Christmas, and it was my first time to have Christmas in one of my children’s homes. It turned out to be a very good time, though different from the past.

This is now my 10th Christmas season without my wife, and each Christmas has become easier and more focused on the family and my friends beyond the family. Of course, there are still sentimental moments and sometimes pangs of sadness, but those are part of the truth about life as it is now.

Christmas won’t be the same for you without your wife, but Christmas seasons won’t always be the same emotional challenge you feel now. You may find that you are comforted by having the same decorations and foods as before, or maybe you will discover new places and new activities. Let the holidays begin to shape themselves as you find the best ways to observe them meaningfully now.

Don’t overdo your celebrations, but don’t make a big show of not celebrating the holidays. It will only make you and others sad. Don’t build a wall of gloom around yourself. People won’t want to try to break through that wall.

There is no way to take away the pain of loss we feel at Christmas. But begin now to form your new practices for this special time. Let yourself grieve, but also let yourself be thankful for the celebrations you enjoyed with her in the past. She would want you to grow past your grief into the new person you are becoming now.

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Look for Dr. Kardatzke’s insights to appear in his column named after his book, “WIDOW-MAN,” every other Wednesday. You can write Dr. Kardatzke at thewidowman@gmail.com

Categories
Faith/Religion Holidays

Why Christmas means even more to me as a widow.

Cynthia

It’s the most wonderful time of the year…and the most painful, nostalgic, nightmarish time of the year now that my husband is gone.  Our hearts and home scream for the void we feel.  A voice that once boomed through our home at Christmas as we gathered around the piano is forever silent.  The man of our house who wore a Santa hat and regaled us with antics straight out of the North Pole now rests in peace.  At least, that is what celebrating Christmas feels like from our perspective.  But is that all it is?  Is there a reason to celebrate anymore?  Are we looking at things from a lop-sided and grief- eschewed perspective?

The voice that once filled our homes with laughter now sings with a chorus of angels.  The hands that played the piano to bring music into our world are raised high in praise of our God who never fails.  The head that bobbed around the house wearing a Santa hat is now bowed in adoration of an omniscient God. Yes, Christmas is worth celebrating because it is not about whom we do not have with us.  It is about whom we hope to spend Christmas with forever.  It is about who made Christmas happen – the Christ of Christmas.  It is about the hope of eternity in His presence.  It is about the promise of seeing our beloved again.  Christmas without my husband means more than it did before because while our hearts hurt and long for his presence here on earth – every time we think of him, we are reminded of who Christmas is really about.  So, as we gather around the piano and sing this year, as we raise our hands in worship of the King of Kings, and as we bow our heads in adoration, we join in with our beloved who IS in the presence of the King. I hear his voice in my head, and I see him worshiping with the saints.  I hear the sounds of trumpets, and the piano fades away. He is celebrating Christmas every day with a passion and fervor we reserve for one day.  What a glorious picture?

We wish you a Merry Christmas – we celebrate despite our pain and despite all the sadness in the world.  We celebrate because Christmas is about Christ – the Hope of the world.  The only assurance we have of eternity in the presence of God.  The only reason we look forward to seeing our beloved again.  We celebrate Christ, even more, this Christmas, and we look forward to the ultimate, glorious celebration in eternity.

Isaiah 9:6

For Unto Us, a Child is born; Unto us, a Son is given.  …. And He will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

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Following the passing of her husband Franz, Cynthia Mascarenhas founded Walk With A Widow, a non-profit organization whose primary focus is healing the hearts of widows by giving love and hope to widows around the world. As one would expect, much of the material crafted for widows can also be of help to widowers.

Cynthia’s insightful articles will appear periodically here on WSN-MO. You can contact Cynthia at her website, www.walkwithawidow.com

Categories
Children Family Grief/Dispair Holidays Loneliness

Dealing with the feelings that come up around the holidays

Christine-14

All those feelings that come up around the holidays

As the holidays approach, I start hearing from folks in my widowhood community. They talk about the variety of feelings the season is bringing up for them.

A widower, with sadness and confusion in his voice, tells me that the holidays were always “her thing”. She was the one who would:

  • Pick out the perfect Christmas tree.
  • Put out the beautiful decorations.
  • Bake the holiday cookies.
  • Wrap the gifts.
  • Take the kids caroling.

A grieving widow tells me that he was the one who would:

  • Get the decorations out of the garage and attic.
  • Lead the prayers and blessings.
  • Light the Hanukkah candles.
  • Prepare the traditional food alongside her.
  • Organize gift exchanges.

For some people, the coming season will be one of the many “firsts” in their widowhood. The pain is very fresh. For others, this is their second or third time around, and they’re wondering why they still feel so lost and numb and raw.

They say – what if the season overwhelms me with sadness? Will I even be able to function? How will that be for our kids? 

Here are some thoughts about this:

  • Your feelings are very real. You might be tempted to control/hide them. However, this can actually make the holidays harder for both you and your kids.
  • It’s important for everyone in the family (including you) to talk about how they’re feeling about the person who is gone (doing this whenever you feel it is best) and how your feelings are affected by that person not being here for the holidays. 
  • This may feel impossible. Or you may be worried that letting out just one little feeling will cause you to completely go to pieces. Very normal – pay attention to this. Talk to a trusted friend, a spiritual mentor, a therapist. Sharing your raw feelings with them first will reduce the enormous pressure inside you. It will also help the feelings be less overwhelming when you talk with your children. 
  • An important thing to remember – when you talk about your feelings with your kids, it gives your kids permission to talk about theirs. 

Widows and widowers ask me – how about the traditions we’ve always done with the kids? Should I do things as we always did them? Is it bad to not do it for the kids? Here are a few things I’ve seen:

  • Some people have a family meeting to ask the kids how they feel about things like decorations, gift giving, and food. The kid’s responses help guide the holiday process.
  • Some families find it cathartic to keep their traditions going. They talk and cry their way through all the memories that come up.
  • Other folks find that’s just too hard, and they do something completely different. (I’ll be exploring this idea in next week’s blog.)

I know firsthand how the holidays can be filled with huge feelings. The best advice I received as a new widow was to “just feel what I feel when I feel it”. 

And what I found was – just like the ocean – my feelings would wash over me. And just like a huge wave, it could feel overwhelming, sometimes like I couldn’t breathe, like I was drowning, and that it would never stop. 

And then just like the ocean, the wave would go out and I could breathe again, stop crying, and even muster a smile. 

I’m interested in hearing about your experiences as you go through the holidays this year. Send me an email.

Categories
Grief/Dispair Holidays Loneliness

Holiday Abyss

Fred-18

Everyone will start to tell you within a week of your wife’s passing that you must steel yourself against the trauma of upcoming special days and holidays. We each are likely to have very different experiences during these special days.

Much of your reaction will depend upon how important each of those days was for you and your wife. For example, Theresa and I had gotten to the point that our birthdays were not a big deal to us, so I did not have a significant reaction on that day. The same was true for Valentine’s Day.

However, Thanksgiving and Christmas were major markers for me and did result in regressions into deep grieving. 

Thanksgiving was tough, but I survived having my meltdown the day before instead of on the holiday. To counter the anticipated Thanksgiving impact, I took our kids and grand-kids for an overnight stay at the Cheyenne Mountain Resort, which had a Thanksgiving buffet. It changed things up enough that the impact was diminished somewhat.

Unfortunately, Christmas was as advertised, with my regressing to the worst stages of my deep grieving as if I were once again in month one of the process. This included full-blown meltdowns, sobbing, crying, yelling, and the whole bit. Total funk days occurred often, and I could barely function at times.

In the middle of preparing our first Christmas family dinner together after my wife’s passing, I had to escape. I crouched in our master bedroom closet, shut the door, and sobbed. After regaining control, I returned to the family to enjoy our meal together. I felt better just knowing that I had taken the time to remember and honor my wife in a way that was therapeutic and helpful.

As I put up the Christmas tree the first year, I set out the Christmas displays, and decorated the tree with my grandchildren; I felt it necessary to let the grandkids know that Popa had not forgotten Gaga and that Christmas would go on no matter what.

One thing I have learned during this process is that it is best to confront your demons, your grief, rather than try to avoid it. That does not mean wallowing in constant self-pity where you are re-experiencing the pain for the pain’s sake, but rather, allowing your grief to progress and come out as it needs to. This will help you process your feelings and love for your wife. Once you do so, it is much easier to move on and celebrate the good moments from the past, and enjoy the ones in the present.

Each widower must find his unique way to embrace and express his grief, a way that means something special to him and his family. This may build on a talent you have, such as writing, singing, music, painting, or even carpentry work. I escaped to reorganizing our photo albums to try and counter the grief with the many positive memories of my wife, Theresa. Writing my book, Widower to Widower, was another effective outlet.

Now in my fourth year after her passing, I find the holidays less challenging. I remember her often and fondly at these times, but no longer sink into deep grieving. My mantra remains: Stop thinking about yesterday, focus on today, and look forward to tomorrow. I know Theresa would be there with me every step of the way with this approach. Yes, I still miss her but, I am gradually re-engaging with life, as I know she would have wanted me to. 

You can do the same!

Categories
Giving Support Grief/Dispair Holidays

Widower: Helping A New Widower on Father’s Day

Fred-18

If your dad recently became a widower, there are ways you can help him on Father’s Day.

Fathers who are newly minted widowers on Father’s Day are apt to be in the throes of intense loneliness, self-doubt, and possibly caught up in regrets and self-recrimination. This can lead to self-isolation and depression if not addressed.

Their children can use Father’s Day as an excuse to insert themselves into their father’s life and provide much needed (though often resisted) love and support. Unlike a holiday such as a wedding anniversary, the new widower may not be severely impacted on Father’s Day, but the wife’s absence cannot be ignored.  Loneliness, especially at this time, can still trigger other severe emotional and physical responses which further aggravate existing symptoms.

I believe it is dead wrong for their children to avoid honoring and celebrating Father’s Day due to a sense that dear old dad needs some space. What he likely needs (though maybe loath to admit it) is some loving company, some emotional support, encouragement, and the message that “we care for you and we are here for you.”

The clueless and sometimes insensitive dad you have known in the past may well be finding his more empathetic and vulnerable side, allowing you “IN” in a way not even dreamed of in past times.

Their children, while suffering too from the loss of their mother, are likely in a better place than their father, and therefore better equipped to be the one reaching out and offering support. They are likely to find their relationship with dear old dad changing through this transition, to one of increased responsibility in many areas. On Father’s Day, that might take the form of being the one taking the lead.

So, my recommendation is that you reach out to dad and engage him during Father’s Day in a way which helps him to break out of the cycle of emotional and physical issues he may be experiencing. He will appreciate it, and you may just find your relationship with him growing in unexpected and wonderful ways.

Categories
Giving Support Grief/Dispair Holidays Moving Forward

Fear-some Firsts

Christine-14

How to get through those hard anniversaries… that horrible first year I called them the “fierce-some firsts”: 

  • First Valentine’s Day. 
  • First Thanksgiving.
  • First Christmas.
  • First birthday (his).
  • My birthday
  • First birthday (the children’s).
  • First “day we met”.
  • First wedding anniversary.
  • First angle-versary (anniversary of death).

During that first year, as these “firsts” approached, I’d count down the days and get very sad. I was in a pretty big fog back then, and still feeling lots of pain.

It’s been almost seven years now. It’s interesting to look back and see how differently I’ve experienced each successive year. 

In hindsight, I’d say the second year was the hardest. The huge fog of the first year was starting to lift then, and therefore the pain was much sharper. With each successive year, those sharp edges have gotten a little softer.

Here’s what I did from the very beginning. I would decide ahead of time what I could do and could not do on “firsts”. Some of the things I’ve done to help myself include:

  • Spend time with friends (go out to dinner, dinner at their house, just sit with them and cry).
  • Go away (by myself or with someone) to get away from the memories of being in the HOUSE we shared.
  • Participate in an activity (doing things with children always helps me temporarily forget my own troubles). Maybe yours is animals, hiking, cooking, or working with wood.

Another option was to decide to stay home and just feel sad (and even sorry for myself). You might think this is unusual advice from a coach. However, I do believe in having people acknowledge their true feelings. Sometimes, it can be healthy and helpful to sit with your honest emotions for a specific amount of time. Because if you try to stop all your feelings all the time, they can become bigger and maybe even out of control. 

I will emphasize that it’s important to establish a specific amount of time. This can be as little as five minutes or as long as an entire day. So make an agreement with yourself ahead of time about the length of time you’ll be spending in the funk. It’s helpful if you tell someone else (an accountability partner) what you’re doing and for how long. Then, just “go for it”. Rant, rave, cry, tear up a bunch of papers, punch a pillow, write (all your feelings, a letter to the person who died, a letter to yourself), read letters you wrote to each other, call a friend, read books, watch movies. Bottom line, you get to choose how to spend the time. 

I’ve done all of these things over the past seven years. I believe it’s helped me a lot. It’s one of the reasons I feel so hopeful about my future. 

No matter where you are in your journey, I hope these suggestions help with the “firsts” you’re navigating in your own life.  

Categories
Family Giving Support Grief/Dispair Holidays Loneliness

What are you going to be doing on New Year’s Eve?

WSN-MO: The Perfect Catch 

WSN-MO Dating and Relationship Coach, Christine Baumgartner asks… 

What are you going to be doing on New Year’s Eve? 

I’ve been talking about the holiday season and widowhood for the past couple weeks. In those articles, I haven’t included the New Year’s celebration because it often impacts people differently than the rest of the holidays.

New Year’s is all about reminiscing about the year that is ending (which you may feel completely unable to do) and looking forward to the new year ahead (which may seem impossible to even imagine).

Just to remind you:

• Depending on how long it’s been since your spouse passed away, your feelings may still be pretty raw. Especially in that first year when you’re probably in a fog.

• Some people opt to keep their traditions going as always (and to talk and cry through the memories). 

• Others find that’s just too hard, and want to do something completely different. 

Something to ask yourself as New Year’s Eve approaches – will it help you more to be around a lot of people, a small number of people, or by yourself? 

If you feel that being with “lots of people” is the right thing for you, here are a couple suggestions:

• Restaurant or nightclub. You can get dressed up, dance, and blow horns at midnight. 

• Have you heard of “First Night”? This family-friendly event is available in various areas of the country (they do it where I live). The city closes the main street, and the local stores and restaurants stay open. Shuttles take people around to entertainment (bands, comedy shows, crafts for kids) being held at local theaters, gymnasiums, and museums. There’s a fireworks show at midnight.

If you prefer being with “just a few people”, here are some that have worked for me:

• Go out to the movies with a friend.

• Plan to go to someone else’s home (close friend or family member who knows how you’re feeling) for an evening of board game playing and good snacks. Then, watch the midnight celebrations on TV or computer.

• Go out to dinner. It’s important to pick a restaurant that won’t bring up memories. 

If you feel like you want to spend the time by yourself, you could:

• Go on a trip locally or far away (once again pick a place that won’t bring up memories). Being away from home can help you not feel like you’re “trying to have” or “not trying to have” your normal traditions.

• Get a pile of movies for watching at home. 

• Make plans ahead of time to have a healing ritual for yourself. Include candles and music if that appeals to you. You can meditate, cry, write a list of resolutions for next year, talk to your deceased spouse – whatever brings ease to your evening.

And to restate my advice from the last two weeks: “Just feel what you feel when you feel it.” Those huge waves of feeling that crash over you won’t last forever (they only feel that way).

I’m interested in hearing about your experiences as you go through the holidays this year. Send me an email.

Christine Baumgartner

Dating and Relationship Coach

The Perfect Catch

http://www.theperfectcatch.com 

WSN-MO: A FEW IMPORTANT POINTS.

1. The services offered by Christine, herself a widow, does not include “dating or matchmaking services.”

2. Christine will NEVER have direct access to WSN-MO’s Facebook page. All postings will be facilitated through WSN-MO.

3. WSN-MO members can ask questions of Christine (even anonymously via private message to me) on our Facebook page which I will forward to her. You can also send questions to me at herb@WidowersSupportNetwork.com. Following, I will then post her responses.

4. WSN-MO members who wish to contact Christine directly are always free to do so c/o her website http://theperfectcatch.com.

Look for Christine’s advice every other Thursday.

Categories
Faith/Religion Holidays Loneliness

A Widower’s Christmas Wish List

by Herb Knoll

Author: The Widower’s Journey 

From as far away as Australia to the British Isles, from Canada to Nigeria, the Widowers Support Network hears the cries of men who mourn the loss of their wife, their soul mates, their partners in life.  Widowed men don’t ask for much, never have, never will.  After all, men who mourn are expected to “get over it,” right?  You know, be a man. Macho if you will.  Unfortunately, that’s not the way it was meant to be.  

It is said that to grieve, you first must have loved.  For without love, grief does not exist.  To have loved is among life’s greats joys.  As such, it is unrealistic to think one who once loved doesn’t grieve when it is lost.  And with grief, comes sorrow, tears, fright, despair, pain, loneliness, depression, aimlessness, and more.  Each of these behaviors is dangerous.  At times, life-threatening. Yet for some reason, widowed men continue to be held to a different set of expectations vs. widows when they experience the loss of their beloved spouse.  

Following a speaking engagement in Connecticut, it hit me.  “Men don’t think they have permission to grieve.”  This is why they retreat to the shadows of our communities to mourn in private, many in total despair, for they wish not to be viewed as less of a man, then society would have them be. How sad for the widowers of the world; our fathers, brothers, uncles, nephews, grandfathers, neighbors, and colleagues. 

In the Gospel of John (John 11:1–44), we learned of the story of Jesus’ dearest friend, Lazarus of Bethany, also known as Saint Lazarus or Lazarus of the Four Days.  Jesus loved Lazarus.  When Jesus wept after he learned of Lazarus’ passing. So painful was Jesus’ loss, he decided to perform one of his most prominent of miracles in which he restored Lazarus to life four days after his death.  For those of the Christian faith (and I invite others as well), ask yourself; does anyone see Jesus as less of a man for his tears?  Jesus’ reaction to the loss of his beloved friend reinforces the view that grieving is a natural extension of one’s love for another.

As we approach Christmas when all of the Christian world celebrates the birth of the Christ child, and presents are so bountiful, do so with a new awareness of the plight of the widowed man. You may know a widower who you are contemplating purchasing a gift.  But what does one gift to a widower? The answer lies in this article.

From around the world, widowers have shared with me a listing of the gifts they would truly love to receive. Don’t worry about the cost. The presents widowers seek won’t cost a nickel.

Categories
Giving Support Grief/Dispair Holidays Loneliness

Proactive steps to help get you through the holidays

Proactive Steps to help get you through the holidays

Last week I talked about the holiday season and widowhood:

  • About the widower who says with tears in his eyes, “Christmas was always her thing”. 
  • About the grieving widow who tells me “he was such a big part of our family’s Hanukkah traditions”.

Depending on how long it’s been since your spouse passed away, your feelings are possibly still pretty raw. Especially in that first year when you’re probably in a fog. Perhaps the “first” holiday season is the most overwhelming, but I found I was still floundering on my second and third.

Not feeling sad around the holidays might not be an option for you. However, not feeling sad every minute of every day might be an option. 

Some wisdom I learned along the way… if something funny happens (especially some of the black humor that comes with widowhood), go ahead of laugh. It’s not disrespectful, and it can be good for your soul. 

If you momentarily forget your spouse is gone because your child or grandchild does something so cute, that’s okay and normal. And then, if your feelings of sadness come slamming back because you wish your spouse was here to see that cute thing they did, that’s normal too. 

Some people opt to keep their traditions going as always (and to talk and cry through the memories). 

Others find that’s just too hard, and want to do something completely different. Here are things I found worked for me over the years.

  • Plan to go to someone else’s home, perhaps a very close friend or family member. Pick someone who you know will be okay with you talking and crying and laughing (sometimes all at the same time) about how you’re feeling. 
  • Go out to dinner. It’s important to pick a restaurant where nothing will remind you of past holidays and other memories. 
  • Contact a local retirement home or assisted living facility. Ask them if you can volunteer there. Giving to others can sometimes make our own hearts feel a little less heavy. You will also understand their pain if they too have lost a spouse.
  • Go on a trip locally or far away (once again pick a place that won’t remind you of past holidays). Staying at a hotel can give you a way of not feeling like you’re trying to have or not have your normal traditions at your house.   

And to restate my advice from last week: “Just feel what you feel when you feel it.” Those huge waves of feeling that crash over you won’t last forever (they only feel that way).

I’m interested in hearing about your experiences as you go through the holidays this year. Send me an email.