Self-Growth

Transitions In Our Own Words: Holidays as a widow(er)

A few months ago one of my blog readers, Mariana, contacted me about writing a piece:“I think we should write something on your wonderful page about those of us who become widows and how holidays can be a bit lonely! What do you think?” I think that’s a great idea!

Holidays, whether secular or religious, are occasions in our lives when we make new memories and reminisce old ones. Transitioning through the first year of holidays after the loss of a relative or friend can be deeply emotional, and the transition from being coupled to a grieving single is one that so many people face. In their own words, here are a few courageous people who have written about their experiences and want to share them with us. Thank you Mariana, Tim and Dorothy.

candle1
candle1

“Here I am, getting ready for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, which are very important Jewish holidays. My widowhood started 16 years ago and it is a new path for me like it is for many other women, no matter what faith they are.

My late husband had a lengthy illness. Somehow I managed to handle that. After he died what I experienced was that everyone was there for me when my spouse passed away and then they all disappeared. Some people pretended they didn't see me on the street or in a shop, it as though I was infectious and they had to stay away from me. So I would shout a cheery “Hello!” Or others, even recently, put their hand on my shoulder during Sabbath services at the synagogue. I suppose it is to comfort me, but it has been 16 years!! These people never bothered to call and pay their respects then!

People don't invite me any more, as though I am a third wheel. I found that the best definition for a widow in today's society, which is supposedly modern, is being treated like a pariah. I found out who my real friends were during these hard times and after 15 years I made new friends.

Taking courses at the university as well as teaching a course helped a lot and so did travelling, moving residences to a new location, and keeping my mind alive with interesting things, reading a lot and being informed of up-to-date date things. I am friends only with whom I want, and dropped those so-called women friends who are needy, unthoughtful and uncaring. I have had a great man friend for over 20 years. For me it is easier to talk to men than women sometimes, maybe because of my science/engineering profession.

My kids are still kids in many ways, I think basically they are good but they say and do hurtful things at times, so I just have a chat with them, showing them how angry I am when they do that!! I give them hell when they don't phone to see how I am, after all I will be 70 next year!! The grand-kids are delicious, very warm and loving. I suppose my kids have a lot on their plate so I try to be quite independent. But we do get together for the Jewish holidays.

It’s important not to give up and to reinvent yourself, like Madonna! You are the new you on a new path, peeling new layers from yourself.” Mariana G.

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“Julyan died at home in palliative care five days after Christmas Day in 2012.  Our two children, my son’s wife and I had a loving Christmas with her. Our beautiful fir tree was sparkling as it had been for 50 years and the turkey dinner in candle light was elegant and romantic. Mum, in her wheelchair, was pale but beautiful with her favourite red sash tossed over her shoulder.  We celebrated our lives together. We were blessed that day and then she said goodbye. It helps to remember”. Tim R.

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“Rudy’s death affected absolutely every aspect of my life: meals, laundry, schedule, exercise, travel, shopping, sleeping, waking, eating, cooking, dressing. With no external commitments of children to tend, job to go to, or aging parents to check in on, my life was an unstructured void; a vast expanse of opportunity and time waiting to be organized, filled, occupied and slept through. I had the luxury to grieve deeply and intensely. I focussed on rebuilding structure and creating a rhythm to my days.

Never big on Christmas, our family celebration has been on Christmas Eve with my sister, brother-in-law, and their 3 children since the children were small. We would stay overnight to Christmas morning to have Santa stockings and a big waffle brunch. There are now grandchildren and the tradition continues. This often left Rudy and me at loose ends for Christmas dinner. Over the years we’d found various ways to fill the gap. It started with inviting the only people we could think of who weren’t busy on Christmas, our Jewish friends the Freeberts. We started off with a traditional turkey dinner, but over the years evolved to tourtière, frites, and maple bread pudding. When the Freeberts moved away we found others who welcomed us into their traditions. Though one year we came home from my sister’s and ordered pizza! Rudy often advocated following the Jewish Christmas tradition of going out for Chinese food and a movie. I couldn’t warm to the idea.

After Rudy died I never feared ‘holidays’ so didn’t plan for them, but they kind of snuck up on me. Suddenly a long weekend loomed and I’d realize I had no concerts scheduled and all my friends were busy doing family things. It feels hard to intrude on family time. I was more conscious of life events like my upcoming birthday and made sure to have friends to share them with. I learned to put out feelers about what people were doing for Thanksgiving and Christmas, and was welcomed as family to warm and grand gatherings. What made them hard was that Rudy’s absence was never acknowledged. I was thinking of him – often mentioned him, even – but no one else wanted to talk about him. It never seemed like there was an appropriate way to introduce the idea of remembering those no longer with us or being thankful for their presence in our lives. Sometimes the gathering included people new to me who hadn’t known him. At least then I had an opportunity to tell my story.

The other thing that makes me sad is thinking about presents. Rudy expressed his love by giving gifts. And he was very generous. Many of his gifts were things to keep me warm – a cashmere sweater, a mohair blanket, winter cycling boots, flannel nightgowns. Realizing there will be no present from Rudy is part of the ongoing realization that he’s really gone. I’ve given myself some warming presents - sheep skin slippers, a cosy wool sweater dress, and this year a new high-performance winter coat, replacing the one Rudy gave me for Christmas a number of years ago. I think of him with love and gratitude whenever I put them on.” Dorothy Russel

The "Lost and Found" of Transitions

The end of something is often the beginning of a transition, the transition from what we know and is familiar to us, The Known, through to The New. Lost our job. Lost our relationship. Lost our health. Lost our home. Lost our community. Lost our way.

Feeling Lost and Feeling Loss-ed.

Feeling lost can be overwhelming, a mish-mash of feeling loss and what I call feeling “loss-ed”. Feeling the losses in our life, the losses of who we are, like a part of us is missing. Feeling confused, conflicted. Feeling empty. Feeling grief. Sometimes it can feel - unbearable.

Feeling lost in a foggy swirl of thick overwhelm filled with confusion, numbness, chaos. Wanting to protect ourselves, hiding under the covers with a cup of tea, or vodka, or a bag of chips, maybe a carton of ice cream. Wishing for a moment of clarity to nudge us, to awaken us from our comfortable or not so comfortable stupor.

Landing in the Unknown, in mid-space, unsure of “What’s next?” “Who am I now?” “Who am I without it / him / her?”

Some part of us that wants so badly, is working really hard for things to be normal again, to find the “next”: the next relationship, the next career, a new home, a new lifestyle. Sometimes we force ourselves ahead into the “new” or “next”. It takes Trust, the kind where we trust ourselves and our process.

And, the finding!

Swimming in the ocean, we can see the shoreline, suddenly a wave comes from nowhere, the undertow tugs us, pulls us underneath so that we feel as though we may never come back up, like we cannot find our breath. Until we feel something, something within pulling us up, and we see tiny glimpses of land coming into view.

manswimminginocean
manswimminginocean

Those tiny glimpses of clarity, those moments when they peak through, they are what we wait for, what we hope for, what we wish for — the excitement and relief of finding. When we feel even a little bit ready, there are many ways to starting finding “the next” or “the new”:

Read a book about it — biography, fiction or how-to. Read newspaper, magazine or blog articles about your "next". Watch a related film - documentary, biographical or fictionalized - or simply for joy. Move your body to move your thoughts — swim, walk, dance, whatever works for you. Commune with nature - spend time outdoors for relaxation, well-being and sparks of creative ideas. Create a fort or sandcastles with your kids or some kids. Take a workshop on something that fascinates you. Make art. Make music. Take an improv class. Brainstorm a list of what is important for you in your “next”. Declare your intention, be it tiny or large. Acknowledge what you are learning, your disappointments and wins. Connect with others who are experiencing it too. Discover new resources and share them.

No matter where you find yourself, in the place of lost, in the place of finding, or in the place of found, appreciate being wherever you are in your process. It is the building of your resilience muscle and the magic of being present to what is possible, that is transforming.

"Our Thoughts on Aging" Interview Project: August 2015 Update

The last time I shared an update about this interview project was in December 2013! That’s 20 months ago! Wowsa. Apologies to all of you who have followed along on this journey. Since then so much has changed in my life, changes that have not only moved this interview project forward but pretty much catapulted it way beyond what I could have imagined. But I am speeding ahead so I’ll slow down and share what happened since that December 2013 when I made the decision to conclude the interview project at 30 interviews. Up until that point, I shared these interviews publicly on this blog and then I moved them into a secret space where only I could access them.

I then went on to explore what to do next, what would be most meaningful: for me, for the interviewees, for the world. After brainstorming a myriad of possibilities, I decided to move forward with a book — a beautiful, evocative, moving page-turner on aging and dying and death. You know, the sexy stuff.

In the first half of 2014 my dad experienced a series of health events and crises that took his health into a state of decline. He was hospitalized in late June 2014 and passed away on July 20, 2014. My dad’s death was personally transformative, wisdom-building of the life experience kind. I earned new grey-hairs honestly through these years of care-giving, grieving and transitioning through family loss and changes that rippled out.

Looking back, I realize that it was as though a part of me had stalled on this project, as if an inner part of me knew, knew, that I needed to experience the death of my dad so that I could write and create this from a place of lived understanding.

Interestingly, I had contacted my writing coach, Chris Kay Fraser at Firefly Creative Writing, in the Spring while I was in the midst of it all. Similarly to when my clients decide to hire me, I decided to hire her for accountability, structure, support, to find my way into new insights and realizations, and for what she excels at, inspiration. So now I am writing up my own story and threading it among these others for what I hope will be evocative and compelling reading.

For a variety of what-I-think-are interesting reasons that are will be elaborated in the book, from the original 30 interviews there will now be approximately 17 interviewees in the final version. After reconnecting with each of them for clarity and updates, I am now in the process of transcribing them and shaping them into a story format. I found that reading an interview is one experience and that reading someone’s story is decidedly more fluid and intimate.

As I mentioned earlier, there are a few special treats that will be created out of this project. A couple of the interview questions asked about the positive things about aging and the total count from the interviewees came to over 70! I’m working with a talented graphic designer to create a text image for posters, cards, etc. And each interviewee will receive a gift package for volunteering their time and sharing their personal thoughts — theirs has been a most valuable and meaningful contribution.

Gawd Forbid we are complex: Accepting complexity in ourselves

complexblogphoto There are moments in life that can be challenging and confusing for us. Making sense of it, trying to understand life, others and ourselves can be like figuring out some intricate moving 4D puzzle. Very difficult and overwhelming. Instead of staying with the overwhelm, we often choose to simplify how we see others, simply how we see the world, and simplify our sense of self to understand and manage difficult situations.

So we’ll take a quiz, fill out a questionnaire or complete an assessment that will help us figure ourselves out and give us THE answer - which career is best for us, who is best for us to mate with, what food is best for us, etc. They can help us and they also validate what we already know about ourselves.

“What’s your astrological sign? What Myers Briggs type are you? Are you a Boomer, Gen X, Gen Y, Millenial? What classification are you in the DSM-V? What political party do you support? What Ayurvedic type are you?”

“Gawd forbid” we are complex. Gawd forbid that we be textured with many layers. Gawd forbid that we continue to be revealed to ourselves.

Being “this” type or “that” label restricts you and me and us from stretching into new places. We are so much more than being slotted into some category for someone to understand us, or make us safe to them. We are so much more than being slotted into a type so we understand ourselves better.

It might lessen the fear, It might quieten the Saboteur voice(s), It might temper the anxiety, when a quiz or an expert says you are this or that.

Perhaps this is why as we mature, we understand less. Our capacity to embrace complexity expands with maturity, gently moving us away from the all-or-nothing, black-and-white constructs of meaning making. Being able to tolerate complexity includes holding duality, this and that, paradoxical ideas, and seemingly conflicting thoughts and beliefs.

“Gawd forbid” that we have nuances. Gawd forbid that we do not have the answer, have an answer, amidst the chaos.

It takes away our opportunity to embrace our colourful layers to become this and that to be this and that to believe this and that to be young and old attractive and ugly smart and naive serious and silly strong and weak.

It takes away the possibility to be more to expand our sense of self to deepen our spiritual understanding to heal ourself to carve our own way to grow in the spaces that we choose to be human.

It takes away the fullness of understanding ourselves, to connect with each other to cross generation, race, religion, culture, gender.

We contain within us a diversity of beliefs, ideas, contradictions, perspectives and ages. Accepting the wholeness of our complexity connects us to our innermost peace and joy.