Categories
Family Greif Holidays

Life is for the Living!

Some winning thoughts by Jim Winner

Life is for the living!

I went to the mountains of Pennsylvania last week to spend Thanksgiving with a few family members. Six of us gathered in my father’s cabin and enjoyed three days of relaxing, visiting, and sharing life.

My father died in an automobile accident ten years ago. Thanksgiving was his favorite day. The first few Thanksgivings without him were hard. My late wife Joyce died 18 months ago. That was tough. This was the second Thanksgiving without her. As I looked around the table, which used to have a minimum of 15-20 people gathered around, I was reminded once again how quickly life changes and how the older we get, the more it changes. I was also reminded that no matter what happens to us, life goes on. COVID and the risk of traveling kept some higher-risk family members at home. Life and work obligations prevented others from traveling. I agree with and respect those decisions. After all, it is 2020.

As I think back on Thanksgiving 2020 versus Thanksgiving 2019, I realize that, thankfully, I am a completely different person. I barely remember Thanksgiving 2019. I was deep in “the fog.” Last week, my siblings and friends remarked how good it was to see me happy again. The truth is, I am happy. Life is good in every way. Life’s journey continues. I took some long walks in the woods and spent some time honoring and remembering past Thanksgiving. There are a lot of good memories in that cabin. I also spent a lot of time thinking about the future and all the memories yet to be made. There’s a saying about the windshield being larger than the rearview mirror. That’s so very true.

As we approach the Christmas season, I know there’s a natural tendency to dwell on the Christmas past. There’s a significant risk to that. Christmas past is over. While we should never want to forget Christmas past, we must not live there. We should always honor and learn from the past. We cannot stay in it.

What I will hope we can all do is live for Christmas ( and life ) in the present and future. So, as we approach the Holiday season, I encourage you to honor the past memories while being intentional and focused on living for the present and future. Gain wisdom from those memories, and embrace what the present and future hold.

Life IS for the living.

Categories
Grief/Dispair Holidays

Holidays 2020

Nyle Kardatzke

WSN-MO: Widow-Man with Dr. Nyle Kardatzke

When I think of holidays, I think immediately of Thanksgiving and Christmas. My wife died on October 25, so those two holidays were a shock. I didn’t intend to immerse myself in open, emotional grief, but I didn’t want to pretend that nothing had changed. Those holidays were a challenge, especially that first year.

At Thanksgiving, I knew I needed to decline invitations from my wife’s family to join them. My son and his wife came to my house for a quiet lunch and afternoon. In the evening, we went to Cracker Barrel for Thanksgiving dinner. Half of the Hoosier nation was there, it seemed, but we had a traditional turkey dinner and felt that we had done justice by Thanksgiving.

Christmas marked precisely two months after my wife’s death. My adult children and four young grandchildren asked if they could all come and stay at my house. I knew I had to decorate the home to some extent rather than broadcast to these young people that I was alone, sad, and in shock. Christmas decorating was a project my wife had always led, so my mind felt like oatmeal, and my body seemed leaden.

I could hardly go through the motions of testing the lights, putting them up and getting the tree from the attic. Thankfully my son and his wife came to help, and the house quickly began to look a lot like Christmas. That year’s decorating was far below the standards my wife would have expected, but it was enough to signal to my family that life was going on and to me. The holiday I had dreaded became a step toward the future.

On the third Christmas after my wife’s death, I was with one of my daughters and her family. It was the first time my daughter had a grandparent there for Christmas, and it was my first time to be alone in the home of one of my children. I now have had ten Christmas seasons without my wife, and each has become easier, happier, and more focused on family, friends, and the future.

Holidays won’t be the same without your wife, but they won’t always be the same kind of emotional challenge you may feel at first. You may find altogether different ways to celebrate the holidays, maybe at home with some of the same decorations and foods you enjoyed with your wife, or perhaps in someone else’s home or a restaurant. Locations can change from year to year to accommodate the needs of family members.

Let Thanksgiving and Christmas take on new shapes in new ways. Find your way naturally into your new holiday traditions, and you will begin to celebrate them wholeheartedly.

_______________________________________________________

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
Holidays Mindfulness Self-care

Thanksgiving 2020

Jim Winner

WSN: Some winning thoughts from Jim Winner

Is it just me, or is it hard to believe that next Thursday is Thanksgiving?

I see and hear of a lot of people struggling as we enter this Holiday season. I understand entirely. COVID-19, quarantine, face-masks, and everything else could make a person wonder how even to be thankful this year. Many of you good brothers are facing the first Thanksgiving holiday without your mate by your side. Just keep breathing. You’ll get through it. I found the anticipation of first events was usually much worse than the actual day itself. It takes a lot to reach down and find something to be thankful for during the year of firsts. If you look just a little bit, however, you’ll find plenty of people and things to be for which you could be very thankful.

I believe this is a good time for all of us to be intentional and mindful of the things we can indeed be grateful. Whether you’re new to this journey or far down the road, I would encourage you to think of those who have been steadfast and have supported you during your darkest and most difficult hours. Take some time this week to sit down and write a personal note or card to the people who have helped you the most. Don’t send a text. There is power in a handwritten note. It speaks to your sincerity. They will appreciate knowing that their efforts meant and still mean something to you. You will feel better having acknowledged their support.

I’m nearing the 18-month mark on my journey of restoration, reinvention, and renewal. I find myself very grateful and appreciative to many people. I’m thankful for new relationships that have blossomed over the past several months. I’m grateful for my family and friends who stayed true and continue to be there for me. I don’t know when Herb Knoll put this Facebook group together. Now, with nearly 1,200 members strong, with members from all across the world, I’m very grateful to Herb for his work. This site and the honest and helpful insight and advice from the people here have helped my healing tremendously. Thank you, Herb. You have a vital ministry. Keep helping those who need it.

So as we officially enter the holiday season, I hope you will live it in a spirit of gratefulness. Grateful for what you had, what you still have, and what you hope to have in the future.

Friends, life is short. Have 2 pieces of pie.

Happy Thanksgiving!

___________________________________________________________________

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

Categories
Grief/Dispair Holidays

Embrace or Escape the Holidays?

Fred-18

WSN: Widower to Widower by Fred Colby

One of my mantras as a widower is: “It will never be the same again!” This view is never more apparent than during the holidays. Because holiday memories are so unforgettable and because they are so important to the family as a unit, the loss of your wife just makes these days incredibly challenging to get through. COVID 19 has only compounded the problems.

Like my family, yours may have developed time-honored traditions for Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hanukkah, or New Year’s Eve (ours was a New Year’s Eve Tamale Party for friends and neighbors). Often your wife may have been the driving force behind these special holidays.

For me, continuing these traditions in the same way was not only challenging to execute but also a huge trigger to intense grieving. At times I felt that I was deliberately punishing myself.

We each may have very different experiences during these special days. Much of your reaction will depend upon how important these holidays were for you and your wife. Regressions into deep grieving are perfectly normal during important holidays, whether you adhere to the old traditions or not.

As I put up the Christmas tree that first year, 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. But there was a price to pay.

That first Christmas was as advertised, as I regressed to the worst stages of grief. It was as if I was again revisiting the first month of the healing process, including 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.

However, after that first year, I decorated my home less and attended the holiday celebrations at the homes of my daughters and their families. I still have good memories, but the reality is that these holidays just don’t have the same meaning for me now.

One way to make the holiday more survivable is to “reinvent” the holiday. For example, to counter the anticipated Thanksgiving dinner impact, I took everyone for an overnight stay at the Cheyenne Mountain Resort, which had a Thanksgiving buffet. It changed things up enough that the sorrow was somewhat diminished. (Granted, this is extra hard to do this year).

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. By confronting your demons, you will help process your feelings and love for your wife. It will enable you 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 practice that means something special to him and/or his family. You may discover it will build on a talent you have, such as writing, singing, music, painting, or 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 and therapeutic outlet.

Now in my fifth year after her passing, I find the holidays less challenging. I remember her often and fondly at these times, but no more elongate sink into deep grieving. My new mantra is: 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!

© Copyright 2020 Fred Colby

All rights reserved

_______________________________________________________________________

Fred Colby is the author of Widower to Widower, which is available on Amazon.com. You can find Fred’s column appearing here on WSN-MO every other Tuesday. Widower to Widower is available through your local bookstore, my website, and Amazon.

Categories
Family Grief/Dispair Holidays Loneliness

Grief Loss and the Upcoming Holiday Season, Strategies for Getting Your ARMS Around It Early

Terrell Whitener

WSN-MO: A Few Minutes with Terrell Whitener

For my offering this week, I have chosen an article out of my archives to share with the brotherhood. I hope you enjoy and, most importantly, consider integrating this into your approach to the season ahead.

Before you know it, the holiday season will be upon us. For individuals that are in a season of grief, the holidays can be the most challenging time of year. It may be even more difficult for those experiencing this season for the first time without a loved one. In this article, I would like to offer a few thoughts that you may consider to navigate this most uncertain time. I refer to it as taking the ARMS approach to surviving the holidays during the season of grief.

A: Acknowledge Your Feelings. Though this may seem obvious, we must realize that grasping a solid hold of this cognitive realization is paramount to your self-care. A successful approach must respect that your personal and genuine feelings will allow for the most palatable experience through this most difficult time. It is normal to feel the need to be strong for others, and it is your right to feel the need to “hold it together” for others. But the day is 24 hours long, and there will be plenty of private time to sort through your actual state of mind.

R: Remember the Good Times. As part of the periods of reflection, always remember to add in memories of the good times. The arguments over the Christmas tree, the heavy-handed pouring of the liquor that “was just to add a little flavor” to the recipe at Thanksgiving, can go a long way at times like these.

M: Make at Least One New Memory. One of the most challenging endeavors to undertake is to introduce some measure of change. Though difficult to do, I highly recommend adding one new activity or memory to this season. It could be as simple as inviting friends for dessert or drinks after the family Christmas meal. Or preparing dinner for friends who may not have a family to join them in celebrating the holidays. Though the initial thought may seem daunting, you may find that it may help you navigate this time a bit easier.

S: Save a Place for Sadness. It would be foolhardy to think that honest reflection will not include times of sadness. To those experiencing their first season after losing a loved one, becoming sad is entirely normal. Finding a place for sorrow is a responsible and honest emotion to manifest. It is an exercise that will make this time bearable.

So, there we are—strategies for Getting Your ARMS Around it Early. I wish you nothing but the best in navigating the upcoming holiday season.

_______________________________________________________________________

Terrell Whitener is an author, motivational speaker, and coach. Based in St. Louis, Missouri, Terrell is the author of The First 365, Learning to Live After Loss. You can reach Terrell at his newly redesigned website thedebriefgroup365.com. There you will find all my social media contacts or through the Widow Support Network.

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!

________________________________________________

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.

_____________________________________________

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.

_____________________________________________

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!