The grief that accompanies the loss of a loved one is crippling. In Feeling Left Behind, author Kim Murdock relates and empathizes with that pain because she’s been there. She knows what it feels like to be woefully blindsided by music or at the grocery store, to reconsider the future alone, and to connect with a person who is no longer alive. You will relate to her chapters as she describes: ● The crushing desire to freeze time and isolate yourself ● The unstable phase of “firsts”― first holidays, birthdays, anniversaries ● The anger and sadness at seeing other couples ● The loss of self, empathy, security, and tolerance ● The heartbreaking sadness of getting rid of their belongings ● And so much more This is not a step-by-step guide on how to grieve. Kim outlines every detail of her experience as well as the experiences of her widow/widower friends to show you that you are not alone. You are normal. And you deserve as much time as possible to figure out how to survive in your own way.
Today my cat had dental surgery. He’s recovering well, but just in case things went wrong, I gave him lots of attention this week. That’s how I live my life—with the idea that life holds no guarantees and people/animals I care about could be gone tomorrow. I’ve learned this lesson the hard way. My sister died unexpectedly when I was 31, and she was 38. A few years later, our beloved dog got cancer and died two weeks after diagnosis. My husband, who’d been the model of health and who I knew would live longer than me, also got cancer and died. These deaths taught me I cannot take life—or the people and animals I care about—for granted. COVID-19 has reinforced this idea. I do my best, therefore, to make the people/animals I care about my priorities. Even though I assumed my cat would survive surgery, we enjoyed lots of snuggle time before the surgery. Most days, I walk with my mom. I’d get more exercise if I walked without her, but I know I’ll miss the day when I can no longer walk with her. So, I make her a priority. I focus on not having regrets; that means I relegate other tasks, including book marketing, to the back burner. Cat snuggling is way more fun!
A sentence can pack a punch; it can console, inspire, irritate, motivate, help, or hurt. For this week’s book bubble, Bublish encouraged its authors to write about sentences and their impacts on us. I’ve thought a lot about sentences—or statements—in the wake of the Boulder shooting. I heard statements such as “Our community is resilient” and “We are BoulderStrong.” Leaders have a responsibility to help the community; they must lead and be positive. I understand that. At the same time, I put myself in the shoes of the family members who lost loved ones and pondered how those statements would've affected me. Those statements probably would’ve frustrated me. Why? Those leaders get to return home to their loved ones. They can take a break from the grief and focus on their families or jobs. They can hug their children or spouse. It’s easy to be resilient when your entire world hasn’t changed. When you’ve lost your loved one, however, you don’t get that option. Grief accompanies you everywhere. You never get to speak with—or hug—your loved one again; death is final. Had I lost a loved one, I suspect the police chief’s statement (“I’m so sorry this incident happened.”) and actions (holding back tears as she read the names) would’ve helped me more.
It’s been a heavy week in Colorado with yet another mass shooting. We’ve experienced Columbine, the movie theater shooting, and smaller ones. This, however, is the first time I had a connection. The grocery store where the shooting took place is close to where my friend’s parents lived until last year. My friend and I (and my mom and I) frequently hiked in that area. I’ve stopped at that store to use the restroom on my way to/from the trailhead. Further, last summer my mom and I hiked with a young couple from the University of Colorado. This young couple was at the store and survived. I watched them on the news. I’ve had no connection—other than living in the Denver area—to anyone in the previous shootings. Plus, my husband was alive during the last mass shooting. I intellectually understood the pain of the families and friends left behind. I felt empathy, but I didn’t know the deep pain that only grief can bring. Now I do. Therefore, when I heard the victim’s names and saw their photos, the tears flowed for their families. They’ll never get to see or talk to those loved ones again. When the news moves on to the next big story and the community moves forward, they’ll still have the pain. It’s heartbreaking.
My physical therapist lost his cousin—and best friend—10 years ago to cancer. To give me feedback from a man’s perspective and to support me, he read my book. He told me it was a fast-paced book, which surprised him since it’s a grief book. Normally we don’t consider grief and fast-paced in the same sentence. But my physical therapist considered the book a page turner. I didn’t think about the pace when writing my book. I wanted the tone to be casual, but pace didn’t enter my thoughts. However, I’m glad to hear it’s a page turner and easy to read. Although I didn’t concentrate on pace, I deliberately kept the chapters short. When grieving, concentration can be very challenging. Grief experts use the term “widow brain” because it can feel like our brains turn to mush after the loss. For example, after her husband died, my friend had such a hard time concentrating that she wrote a post-it note to remind herself to brush her teeth. Even that habitual and mundane task was too much to process or remember. I didn’t experience widow brain as much as many of my widowed friends. I’m thankful for that, but I appreciate that many widows do. Therefore, I kept my chapters short and easy to process.
If readers are purchasing my book or thinking of purchasing it, they’ve likely lost a spouse or another loved one. They are likely in pain and feeling alone. Therefore, when crafting my introduction, I wanted first to tell them I’m sorry for their loss. I wanted to acknowledge their grief. Even though the book is about my experiences and emotions, it’s also about theirs. They deserve compassion and caring, so I needed to give them that compassion. Besides grieving spouses, family members of grieving people also have purchased my book. They desire to understand what their family member is experiencing. Therefore, when crafting my introduction, I also wanted to acknowledge these people. In my introduction, I also established why I wrote this book. What makes me an expert on grief? I share why I’m an expert and why I wrote the book. Finally, in my opening pages, I explain that this book is meant to give readers permission to grieve in their own way. I intentionally didn’t design it to tell readers how to move forward or how to thrive again. These types of grief books fill the bookstore shelves, so readers already have plenty of options, if that’s what they desire. I wanted my book’s intention to be clear from the start so that readers don’t feel disappointed.
My intention in writing my book was to tell the truth about grief and give surviving spouses permission to grieve. Grief is messy, ugly, and unpleasant. It’s not linear, and sometimes it makes no sense. As a society, we pretend it doesn’t exist or sprint full speed away from it. Or if we know someone grieving, we often give them suggestions on how to get through it quickly and return to normal. COVID-19, however, has forced us to face death and those left behind. As of today, almost 525,000 Americans have died from COVID-19, so we hear about death daily. In the meantime, people also continue to die from other causes: cancer, strokes, heart attacks, accidents, etc. Millions of people are now experiencing grief’s pain and feeling broken. It’s time for our culture to truly acknowledge grief. Let’s stop pretending it doesn’t exist and shaming people for feeling it. Instead, let’s be willing to sit with people in their pain and grief. That’s what I’ve attempted to do with my book—have a candid conversation around the grief experience. In fact, I recently received a book review from Booklife, which is a Publishers Weekly site dedicated to indie authors. Part of the review said, “Readers experiencing grief will welcome the author’s candor.” This is what I hoped to accomplish.
My book’s intention is to give widows and widowers permission to grieve. Our culture is inept at grief, and we prefer to hurry people through the process. This often leaves grieving people feeling isolated or like there’s something wrong with them. For example, my neighbor lost his wife last year. Sometimes when he tells me what he’s feeling, he tells me he must be crazy; to signify this madness, he rotates his finger in a circle at his temple. I inform him he’s not crazy; he’s grieving and his feelings are normal. I can’t talk to every widow/widower in the world, however, and reassure them. I can’t share my experiences with every widow in person. Instead, I designed my book to have this same conversation with my readers. Therefore, the tone is casual, as if we’re having a relaxed conversation between friends sharing the same, undesired experience. The book is intended to hold the widow’s hand and sit with her in her grief. There is no judgment; there’s compassion and understanding. I hope to elicit calm and relief because readers will know by reading the book that they aren’t alone. I hope to comfort them. Readers have shared with me that they’ve cried when reading my book because they relate to the stories I tell. They no longer suffer alone.
This week’s book bubble inspiration asked us to write a love letter to an author. I devote my love letter to Trisha O’Keefe. Trisha is my mom’s cousin and has written a few novels. After having tumors removed from his spine, my husband got a blood clot in his leg. We rushed to the hospital, and I brought Trisha’s first book, Hanahatchee, with me. Reg didn’t have a book, so he had nothing to distract himself during our long wait. I hadn’t yet started the book, so we began the book together; he listened while I read aloud. I’m grateful for this book because it offered the distraction we needed. Upon returning from the hospital, we continued the routine of my reading a story aloud to him. We enjoyed those moments. Trisha published her next book after Reg died. She dedicated the book to him, which touched me deeply. I even discuss this dedication in my book. I also thank Trisha because she was the only person I knew who’d published a book, so I realized publishing a book was possible for an average person. Sadly, one of Trisha’s students (she was a teacher) pushed her hard enough that she fell over; she hasn’t fully recovered. My mom and I can’t reach her, so I can’t give her this letter.
Yesterday I chatted with my neighbor, who lost her husband to COVID-19. She said after her husband died, she didn’t know who she was anymore. I told her I’d felt the same way and that my book has a chapter called “Loss of Self.” She seemed relieved—and surprised—that she wasn’t the only one to feel this way. I gave her a copy of my book because I expect she’ll also relate to the other chapters. This conversation affirmed for me, once again, why I wrote this book. She assumed she was unique, and that made her feel alone. But this “loss of self” is a common grief experience. That’s why I wrote my book—to help readers realize they aren’t alone. They aren’t crazy, and there’s nothing wrong with them. They’re just grieving. Similarly, my friend texted me Wednesday to tell me he’d given my book to his mother-in-law, who lost her husband five years ago. She cried while reading it. Why? She related to its content. Again, this affirmed why I wrote the book. Often, I get so lost in the book’s marketing that I forget the impact. I’m thankful when I interact with widows who remind me why the book’s important. I wish I could spend less time marketing and more time interacting with them.
This past year has brought uncertainty, grief over the loss of a life we expected (at least in the short term), and fear. We’ve had to withdraw from social circles and isolate more. We’ve been forced to confront death and realize it can come for us at will. We’ve had to change daily patterns, and we can’t get what we want. The racial reckoning has made me pause and reflect on how little I know or understand. The Capitol riot disgusted me. So, this year’s events have definitely affected me. However, COVID-19 hasn’t affected me as drastically as it has much of the world. Why? When my husband died, I lost the future I expected. I had to confront death and appreciate it isn’t fair; it takes good people and sometimes defies logic. I desired to isolate myself and withdraw from social circles. Long before COVID, I felt more comfortable staying home than interacting with people whose lives were “normal.” Quarantining, therefore, hasn’t significantly altered my life. Getting through a pandemic hasn’t been as hard as surviving after my husband died. Therefore, the past year’s events haven’t affected my writing other than acknowledging that I should write more because millions more people are now grieving. However, my job demands have prevented my having time to write more.
I recognize transitions can be a time of growth and opportunity. But if I’m honest, I hate change—unless I initiate it or want it. This is especially true regarding my husband. For example, on Sunday night I watched the playoff game between the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and New Orleans Saints. The quarterbacks for both teams—Tom Brady and Drew Brees—played while my husband was alive, so they remind me of the good old days. As I watched the game on Sunday night, the sportscasters frequently discussed how Brees would likely retire. Unless he won that game, that would be the last time we saw him play quarterback. I cried—ugly tears—for much of that game and felt distraught that the team will transition to a new quarterback. I’m a football fan, but I have no affiliation with the Saints. Brees’s retirement shouldn’t have sent me into despair. But it represents moving farther away from the life I had with my husband. That continues to be difficult for me. Plus, as I transition into an older age, I’m struggling with aging, body inflexibility and changes, and added wrinkles. The sportscasters kept highlighting the old guys playing quarterback versus the new guys; this made me anxious. We’re transitioning to a new generation, and my generation is being left behind.
It’s been a long time since I’ve felt childlike wonder. Even as a young girl, I don’t remember feeling wonder too often. I got type 1 diabetes when I was nine; I think the daily ritual of multiple injections, giving up sugar, having to be on guard and responsible, and knowing my actions could have dire, deadly consequences took the free spirit out of me. Or maybe I was more focused and intense even before my diagnosis. I don’t remember. Now, as an adult, I rarely stop to experience the world’s wonders. If I’m on a hike, I’ll occasionally stop to observe the views. I almost always hug a tree. But, I generally put my head down and march forward; my destination awaits, and I don’t like to be deterred. I’ve tried to be better about his though. On my hikes lately, I’ve attempted to stop and spot five unique items, hear five distinct noises, detect any smells, and notice any tastes (normally I can’t smell or taste anything)—all while taking deep breaths. When I take this moment, I’m happier and more peaceful. It’s particularly exciting when I slow down enough to spot deer or a mountain squirrel. Unfortunately, it’s just not my instinct; I have to remember to pay attention.
When I was younger, I considered myself an optimist; I believed everything would work out, and I could find positive outcomes from negative experiences. As I’ve aged, however, my optimism has diminished. When my husband received his cancer diagnosis, I wasn’t fazed. I knew he’d beat it and live; I had no question. Even when the cancer spread, I remained hopeful and continued to research ways to cure him. Yet despite my hope and positive outlook—and all we did to give him a fighting chance—he died. His death, sadly, affected my hope. Now, I’m more of a realist. For example, I’m not hopeful about reversing climate change and saving our planet, especially because much of the population is unwilling or unable to conserve or care. Given events on the Capitol this week, I’m not hopeful our country can or will heal. I’d like to think we can, but I’m not encouraged. Lest you assume I’m a Debbie Downer, however, I do have hope in many areas: I expect our democracy will survive. I’m hopeful that black Americans will finally get more opportunities. I’m hopeful my friends and family will survive COVID-19. I’m hopeful my cat, who has chronic kidney failure, will live for a while. In other words, I maintain faith, but I’m no longer blinded by optimism.
When you’ve lost a loved one, the holidays can be merciless. After my husband died, I wanted nothing to do with Christmas, even though I’d previously been a huge fan. I now, however, enjoy Christmas again and even feel sad when it’s over. That’s true even for this Christmas, which COVID-19 altered. Normally, my mom hosts a Christmas Eve dinner with friends who have nowhere else to go and family. This year, dinner included just my mom and me, which seemed bizarre. I still set a formal table because I never know how many more Christmases I’ll get with my mom. If for some reason this was our last Christmas Eve dinner, I didn’t want regrets that I didn’t bother with the table. I realize that sounds morbid, but I recognize life holds no guarantees. COVID has made that even more real; life can change at any moment, and people you love can be here today and gone tomorrow. So, I set the table as if it were a fancy dinner party. Like normal, I set a place at the table for my husband, including photos of him on the plate and a teddy bear in his chair. Although I still missed him, by incorporating him I’ve learned to enjoy Christmas and even love it again.
Other than The Night before Christmas, I don’t remember reading Christmas stories as a child. As an adult, however, I used to read only Christmas books during the holiday season. Some included Christmas miracle stories, some involved mysteries, and some integrated romance. After my husband died, I stopped reading Christmas books. He died nine days before Thanksgiving and five weeks before Christmas. Where was our miracle? We didn’t receive one, so why would I want to read about miracles or Christmas romance? I packed the Christmas books in a box in the basement, but two weeks ago I finally picked up one. It was a 1920s mystery that took place during Christmas. It included a happily married couple but mostly centered on a kidnapping, so I enjoyed the story. Three days ago, I started another Christmas book. This one focuses on three angels assigned to answer people’s prayers on earth. I’m only 20 pages into the book, but so far I’ve been able to tolerate and even enjoy it. Although I read the book long ago, I don’t remember it. I know the prayers will be granted, though, because it’s a Christmas book. I’m far enough along in my grieving process that I can stomach that and even hope for others’ Christmas miracles. However, I’ll still avoid Christmas romances.
Today I walked down memory lane multiple times. This morning, my favorite food truck emailed with this week’s offerings, including vegan matzo ball soup. Even before I became vegan, I hadn’t eaten matzo ball soup since childhood. I have a distinct, happy memory of eating matzo ball soup with my dad at a deli that closed over 40 years ago. When I saw it on this week’s menu, I was excited to order it. After ordering, I journeyed to Denver’s Christkindlmarket, an outdoor holiday market with independent, Bavarian-style, wooden stalls selling glühwein, a traditional German mulled wine served at Christmastime; German and Eastern European foods; gifts; and Christmas decorations. Being at the market brought back happy memories from a vacation my husband and I took to Germany and Austria during the Christmas season. We visited many Christkindlmarkets, including one in Vienna that featured a men’s a cappella group singing traditional Austrian Christmas carols. We listened as we shared roasted chestnuts; my husband drank glühwein while I drank kinder punsich (the alcohol-free version). It was magical. To honor that memory, today I strolled through the market as I drank kinder punsich. Sure, it was different: I wore a mask, I heard no German, and a homeless encampment stood next to the market. However, I still enjoyed the stroll down memory lane.
Two months ago, I walked home from my local farmers’ market. On the way, I passed a restaurant that’s been in my neighborhood since the 1980s. My husband and I only walked there for breakfast twice. But as I passed the restaurant this fall, I reflected on how the world has changed since we last ate there. Of course, it never occurred to us that he’d die only years later—obviously causing the biggest change to my world. We didn’t think I’d someday walk by wearing a mask because of a global pandemic. The country wasn’t so politically polarized like it is now. Civility still existed in politics, and neighbors didn’t hate neighbors. My city, Denver, has also changed drastically. Since our last visit to the restaurant, Denver’s population has grown by over 355,000 people. Denver used to be a friendly, affordable city where you could drive easily through town. Now, no matter the day of the week or the time of day, I hit bumper-to-bumper traffic. Neighbors walk passed me without smiling or saying hello, which is an unwelcome change. The iconic Denver restaurants have vanished, and house by house, the historic neighborhoods are morphing with large, modern houses. If I’m honest, I don’t like these changes to the world or Denver. I’d gladly go back in time.
My family doesn’t have many longstanding Thanksgiving traditions. Our one tradition is running (or lately walking) in Denver’s annual Turkey Trot. My husband and I once traveled to Wisconsin for Thanksgiving, but we kept the tradition alive by running in Green Bay’s Turkey Trot. My husband died nine days before Thanksgiving, and the pain of watching others’ Thanksgiving joy felt almost too much to bear. I wanted to pretend Thanksgiving didn’t exist, but I still ran the Turkey Trot. After all, it was tradition. This year, however, there was only a virtual Turkey Trot. My mom, nephew, and I signed up. But it wasn’t the same. The race is held every year in the park just blocks from my house. Normally there are roughly 10,000 people who participate, and many dress in pilgrim and turkey costumes. The energy in the air is joyous and contagious with 10,000 excited people. Because of COVID, this year you could participate any day this week. In keeping with tradition, we did our virtual walk on Thanksgiving. Fearing the park would be too crowded, we went to a different location (a walking path). We saw a few other people wearing the same Turkey Trot shirt; otherwise, we saw no other Turkey trotters. It lacked excited energy and fun costumes. Maybe next year . . .
The holidays are billed as the best time of the year. However, they can be painful for grieving people. Thanksgiving, for example, is a time to gather and often has traditions and rituals. Many—or most—families eat the same food and often invite the same people. It’s a time when people seem excited and happy; commercials highlight laughing people gathered around the table. But when your loved one is gone, his/her absence is glaring and profound at Thanksgiving; a person is missing at that Thanksgiving dinner table. Rituals and traditions don’t feel the same. When you’re grieving, sometimes it’s hard to feel gratitude. As someone who has experienced the pain of those first Thanksgivings without my husband, I recognize the pain and understand. But what about this year? COVID-19 is reshaping Thanksgiving. We can’t hold the same gatherings, so traditions and rituals may be out the window. Will that make it easier or harder for grieving people? I don’t know. Perhaps COVID is a great excuse for grieving people to stay home and avoid the pain of Thanksgiving altogether. Or perhaps the isolation will become worse. In the past, I’ve written about Thanksgiving to comfort grieving people and to let them know I understand and acknowledge their pain. I’m not sure what to do this year.
Today is World Kindness Day. This week, I’ve pondered how I can intentionally be kind. Ironically, yesterday—on the eve of World Kindness Day—I saw my first negative review. In writing my book, I’ve allowed strangers into my grief journey. I decided that if I really wanted to help people, I had to expose all my emotions and experiences. I couldn’t sugarcoat them; instead, I had to show the raw underbelly. No book is for everyone, including mine. I know that. But, I naively assumed if I exposed myself, people, especially other widows, wouldn’t be harsh in their opinions. After reading this review, however, I wanted to curl up in the fetal position. I shed tears and thought, “This isn’t worth it. I’m trying to help people, and I get stung in return.” To soothe myself, I considered all the grieving people who’ve thanked me for the book. I remembered the grieving people who are still struggling right now. They inspire me to keep going. They remind me why I wrote the book. Who cares that I got one harsh review (that still gave 3 stars)? Can I abandon grieving people who need kindness right now? No. But in the spirit of World Kindness Day, I’m going to be kind to myself and take a break today.
Before I met my husband, I’d never done a jigsaw puzzle. But every year after Christmas, we’d listen to holiday music, chat, and contentedly work together at the dining room table while solving a puzzle. My husband could spy a piece across the table and know it would fit just by looking at it. I, on the other hand, had to insert—and sometimes force—each piece (only to discover it didn’t fit); I can’t accurately distinguish the shapes. We’d spend the same time working on it, but he’d finish two-thirds of the puzzle (usually the harder parts). Since his death, I’ve continued the winter ritual of working on puzzles. I still struggle with them, but I’m proud I’ve completed all but one puzzle that I’ve started. Puzzles keep me connected to him, and they also help me practice patience, which isn’t my strong suit. I often say patience is one of my life’s lessons, and I’m far from mastering it. When I’m assembling a 1,000-piece puzzle, however, I’m forced to stay patient and not give up. I also use puzzle time to listen to webinars, usually related to marketing my book. My focus wanders when listening to them at my computer. When my eyes and brain concentrate on a puzzle, another part of my brain can pay attention.
I was diagnosed with diabetes at 9, so I stopped eating sugar (though I resumed eating it as an adult). When you can’t eat Halloween candy, there’s no point in trick-or-treating; therefore, I gave up trick-or-treating at a young age and stopped caring about Halloween. I enjoy seeing people in creative and elaborate costumes (if I leave the house on Halloween), but I haven’t worn one in years. What intrigues me about Halloween, however, is the notion that the veil is thin between this world and the afterlife. I realize that may sound ghoulish or scary. But I find it interesting. Could my husband be closer on Halloween? I like the idea. In fact, a couple of years ago I tore my rotator cuff and needed surgery. I intentionally chose Halloween for the surgery day because I was charmed by the idea that my husband could be closer. I believed that under anesthesia, my brain would—maybe—sleep and allow my soul to converse with him. Am I crazy? Maybe. The problem with anesthesia is you recall nothing after you wake up. I can’t tell you if I visited with my husband. The last thing I remember is saying to the anesthesiologist, “Where is your costume?” Then boom! I was asleep. But, perhaps I had a delightful visit with Reg.
Letting go is hard for me; my memory sometimes fails me, but I can remember and hang on to slights like nobody’s business. On the other hand, it’s slightly easier for me to let go of goals; sadly, I’ve had enough practice at not achieving them (especially my ideal weight). Some intentions, however, are easier to release than others. As I write this, I was supposed to be in Uganda experiencing the mountain gorillas and other safari animals. COVID-19 has postponed that expedition; I’m prepared to let that trip go altogether. Other goals are harder to release. For example, I set a goal to run a 10k (6.2-mile) race in under 60 minutes. In 2015, I ran a 10k in 1:00:10—just 10 seconds short! I was determined to take off 10 seconds the following year. But the following spring, a tree fell in my yard. As I removed the branches, I injured my knees. I now can’t run and will never achieve my target. Although it’s painful to admit that and I feel grief around my knees, I’ve let it go. In contrast, I had a goal to write my book, and there was no way I would give up on that. Only my death could have stopped me from writing and publishing it.
In high school, I studied and enjoyed European history. I don’t remember learning about the 1918 flu, but I learned about the mid-1300s Black Death. I’ve been fortunate to travel many times to Europe, where history has come alive. In many small European towns, I’ve taken photographs of the Trinity—or plague—columns that people built in the 1300s to ward off the Black Death and to thank the divine for their survival. I’ve wondered how it felt to live through the plague. It never occurred to me that someday, I’d live during a pandemic. In my mind, pandemics were history and maybe understandable. After all, in the 1300s, they didn’t have antibiotics, ventilators, indoor plumbing, or sanitary drinking water. No wonder the Black Death killed one-third of the population, and the 1918 flu killed 50 million. But here we are—with modern medicine, space to get away from people, clean water, and indoor plumbing—living through a pandemic. While I’m not thrilled to live during a pandemic, in some ways I’m fascinated. We haven’t lost as many people, so it doesn’t feel all-consuming like I imagine the Black Death was. But someday, people will study our time period and wonder what it was like to live through COVID. I never thought I’d be part of history!
Fall is here, with its crisp morning air, cooler daytime temperatures, and changing leaves. I’m not, and never have been, a fan of fall. As a serious and hardworking student, autumn meant a return to the grind. Summer equaled—and for me still equals—long, fun days; traveling the world; reading many books; hiking; and relaxation. Each year as fall approaches, I get anxious and feel I must take advantage of the end of summer. I must accomplish as many hikes as I can before hiking season ends; I must sit outside and read many books before the warm days are gone; I must enjoy the remaining vegetables in my garden before they die; I must swim before the pool closes. In other words, I must enjoy life before death (winter) arrives. As a fan of fall, my husband hated hearing me complain about autumn; he told me I’d start fretting about summer ending as soon as June ended. I often joke that not even his death has saved him from hearing me complain about fall. This year, I’ve tried to be more mindful about fall’s benefits by seeking out hikes known for their gorgeous fall leaves. It has helped, but I still feel anxious with each passing fall day.
This week I celebrated my “gotcha day”—the day I met my husband. This term originated with pet adoptions because usually adopters don’t know their pet’s actual birthday. The gotcha—adoption—day becomes the birthday. I’ve since adopted this term for the day I met my husband—the day I “got him.” To commemorate the day, I took a long (10.1 miles round-trip), challenging (3,064-foot elevation gain) hike in a spot where we had once hiked. I got lost twice and was battered by wind most of the day, but I witnessed stunning scenery with alpine lakes, gorgeous peaks, and even a glacier. My husband and I once celebrated our anniversary—gotcha day—in Sandpoint, Idaho, while we enjoyed a road trip through the West’s national parks. In this small town, we ate at a Chinese restaurant. In memory of that anniversary, this year I ordered Chinese food from our favorite local Chinese restaurant. Then, as I ate my dinner, I watched the Tour de France’s final stage, which I’d recorded on Sunday but hadn’t had time to watch. Normally the Tour de France is in July, so although we followed it every year, we never saw it on our anniversary. But because of COVID-19, the race took place in September. What a great way to end the celebratory day!
Who defines bravery? Recently, I hiked a gorgeous, 11-mile trail with only a few people throughout the hike. A sign at the trailhead said, “You are in bear country.” Yikes! The sign made me nervous, but I hiked anyway. About five miles into the hike, I ran into two women who’d turned around because they feared potential bears. They considered me brave for not only hiking, but hiking alone. I told them they could follow me, and I would scare off the bears. I didn’t feel courageous though; I just wanted to hike. My best friend considered me brave when I traveled to Kenya alone in 2018. I didn’t feel brave; I either traveled alone or didn’t get to visit Kenya. There was no choice. Similarly, many people have told me I was brave for writing my book because it’s so intimate and vulnerable. I didn’t feel brave in writing the book; rather, I felt it was something I had to do. I didn’t have a choice. When I consider bravery, I think of military people or firefighters willing to sacrifice their lives. Or, I consider the protesters at Standing Rock willing to stand their ground despite attack dogs and water cannons. Or, how about those who marched from Selma who risked death and beatings? These are all brave people.
As a serious and hardworking student, I strived to earn all As in school. That meant constant stress. During the summer, on the other hand, I traveled, swam, read thrilling books, and relaxed. Therefore, back to school brought dread each year, not excitement. However, I do remember some falls when I got new back-to-school clothes. One item was a striped blue and white sweater from JC Penny. At another store that no longer exists, I purchased a jean skirt. I remember these clothes because they came from the teen department. I was only in grammar school—maybe fifth grade—but in grammar school I wanted desperately to be older. Purchasing clothes from the teen department made me feel like I was a grown-up and mature. I don’t think I ever wore those clothes to school (at least I have no memory of wearing them). But purchasing them felt like a rite of passage. Besides those instances of purchasing clothes, the only other excitement I got from back to school was buying new school supplies, especially notebooks and paper. I liked starting fresh and feeling organized. As an environmentalist who now reuses paper and notebooks, I’m horrified by how I used to throw these items out each year. But, at the time I didn’t know better.
As I’ve written in another book bubble, I’m a big fan of bike racing, particularly the Tour de France. After COVID-19 delayed the race for two months, the three-week race finally kicked off this week. On Tuesday, the man who won the stage, Julian Alaphilippe, excitedly crossed the finish line, kissed his finger, and pointed his finger toward the sky. His father died in June, and he was saluting his dad. After Alaphilippe dismounted from his bike, he broke down into tears. His display of emotion and honoring of his dad touched me deeply. I also understood, as I’ve desired to honor my husband. In my book, I discuss this desire. For example, my husband had wanted to ride a 70-mile bike race, but he died before he got the chance. I wasn’t in good enough shape to ride the 70-mile course, but I raced the 24-mile course in his honor. I designed a jersey with his photos and a memorial to him, and I proudly wore that jersey with his bike shorts. Then, I rode with every ounce of energy I had, as he would’ve done. I also purchased a memorial plaque for him at the stadium where his favorite football team, the Green Bay Packers, play. Like Alaphilippe, I want my loved one to be remembered.
Wednesday was National Dog Day, so I posted a photo of my dog Basta on Facebook. I adored that dog and was devastated when he died in 2006. I periodically think of him and smile, but posting that photo really brought back memories. On Thursday, I hiked and even thought of him then. Toward the end of my hike, I passed a man wearing a T-shirt that said “Basta” across the front. I couldn’t believe it! Yes, Basta is a real word—meaning “enough” in Italian or “stop it” in Spanish. But, it’s not a common word; I don’t hear it in casual conversation or see it on a shirt. When I’d been thinking about him so strongly, however, there it was. I had two options: I could consider it just synchronicity, or I could believe it was a wink from the other side. Either way, it’s fascinating. However, believing it’s a wink from the other side—either from my husband (who adopted Basta before I met him) or Basta—brings me joy and makes me feel loved. That same afternoon, “I Can’t Help Falling in Love with You” played on the radio. When I hear that song, I choose to believe it’s a sign from my husband. I felt delighted to feel so much love from the other side.
Having a meaningful life is important to me. In 2000, I became a life coach and wrote a mission statement that included: “I want to help make the world a better place by dealing with people in a loving, compassionate, and supportive way . . . I want to help others . . . I want to be a part of saving the planet by caring for and cherishing the precious environment. I want to help all animals . . .” Eventually, I stopped working as a life coach, became a writer and editor, and focused my energy (when not working) on volunteering at an animal shelter. I spent endless hours devoting myself to the shelter cats, and my efforts helped many animals. I felt my life had meaning; saving animals was my purpose. Then my husband died, and I stopped volunteering. I searched for meaning and looked to grief books. None allowed me to grieve in my own way. So, I knew I had to write a book to give people permission to grieve. The book gave me another way to fulfill part of that mission statement I’d written in my 20s (“I want to help people”). The book also allowed me to give meaning to my husband’s death. He didn’t die in vain if I can help others.
In 2007, my husband and I watched the Tour de France, the world’s most famous bicycling race. After that, we were hooked and followed it every year, along with all bicycling races broadcast in the US. Since his death, I’ve continued to watch every race that’s broadcast here. Like every other sport, however, COVID-19 interrupted bike racing. In March, I watched the Paris-Nice race. But, it got canceled with one day left in the race. The bike riders all returned to their respective countries—training indoors until lockdown lifted—until racing could resume. In the past two weeks, racing has resumed, and I finally got to see a race yesterday! The riders looked like they always do, but unlike normal times, few fans stood along the sides of the roads. The award presentation also was different. Usually, the winners stand on stage, shake the sponsors’ hands, and receive kisses on both cheeks from female models. This time, the winner stood alone on the stage with no women, no handshakes, and wearing a mask. Also, the winner wore a mask in the post-race interview. I don’t care because I’m just happy to have racing back. I’m hoping France (and Europe) continues to control the virus, so the rest of the racing season can continue, including the upcoming Tour de France.
My husband owned and ran a small software company out of our modest home, where noises could be heard throughout the house. His sales and support took place online, so customers had no idea he worked at home. Occasionally, however, he had to call a customer and pretend to be corporate and formal. At those times, we’d close the doors to our shared office, and I’d try to entertain the cats. Cats being cats, though, they’d go to the doors and want inside to see what their daddy was doing. We also had an elderly hospice foster cat who lived in the office and mostly slept; we just hoped she wouldn’t make noise while he was on the phone. Fast forward to 2020, and animals in the background are normal and expected. Cats meow, dogs bark, and kids appear on Zoom meetings. I love this. I’m not a fan of corporate, uptight America. I love animals, so knowing they’re in the background makes me smile. I’ve worked from home since 2006, so I’m used to cats demanding attention while I work. I’m used to reaching far distances for my keyboard because a cat’s in my lap. I expect this to continue for the rest of my working life. I hope others also get to continue this fun (if they choose)!
Yesterday was my birthday. My favorite birthday activity is hiking, so yesterday I chose a favorite hike. It was 8.6 miles roundtrip with a 2,700-foot elevation gain, ending at 12,874 feet. The scenery was stunning with lakes, streams, wildflowers, and majestic mountain views. Because it’s a hard trail, there were few hikers. When I reached the top and sat near the glacier lake, I was the only person. In fact, I didn’t see another person for another two miles. I first hiked the trail on my 40th birthday. My husband had started chemotherapy the day before, so I hiked with friends. Yesterday, I felt proud that exactly nine years later, I was hiking the same steep trail. My knees have weakened and my body has aged, but I could still do it. I was also proud of my willingness to hike alone. Though I prefer to hike with a friend, since my husband’s death I’ve gotten accustomed to being alone. On my 40th birthday, I wouldn’t have considered hiking alone. Now, I chose to hike alone rather than not getting the chance to hike this gorgeous trail. My husband was often my birthday hiking buddy, so of course I missed him and wished he were there yesterday. But, I made the best if it.
I’ve always become depressed when I’ve felt people have left me behind—by quitting their jobs, moving away, etc. For example, in my 20s, I lived in Vail, a scenic Colorado ski resort. When my mom would visit for a weekend, I’d get depressed when she left; after all, she was leaving me behind! I was lucky to live in this desired location, and she had to return to Denver. Yet, I always felt sad. In 2008, I went on a women’s retreat and shared that I was terrified my mom and husband would die and leave me behind. Both had no health concerns, yet I feared their deaths. Years later, my husband got cancer. Despite heroic attempts to treat it, it spread and eventually paralyzed him. We maintained hope, but we could see cancer was winning. As we drove home from chemotherapy one day, he said, “I know the worst thing I could ever do to you is leave you behind.” He then sobbed. He understood my deepest fear, and it pained him deeply to think he’d likely contribute to it. Therefore, when I wrote my book after he died, Feeling Left Behind was the perfect title. Like many of my widowed friends, that’s exactly how I felt. He left me behind to face the world alone.
Though my husband, Reg, laid unconscious for almost two days before he died, I maintained hope that he’d wake up and our lives would continue. I finally realized death was imminent because of my cats Boo and Taylor. While Boo slept on Reg’s stomach, and Taylor squished next to Reg’s side, Reg stirred. I tried to move Boo, thinking Boo was hurting Reg. Boo yelled at me, and in that moment, I knew—just knew—that Reg was dying. I placed Boo back on Reg’s stomach, and he assisted Reg in peacefully transitioning into the next world. After Reg died, I laid my head on his shoulder and sobbed with unbearable pain. My cat Rita, whom Reg adored, climbed on his chest and settled in to bear witness. I felt comforted knowing Rita and I were grieving the loss together; neither of us was ready to let his body go, and we needed it to comfort us one last time. Almost a year later, our house caught on fire. That night, my cats and I moved to a hotel, and I sat on the bed sobbing uncontrollably remembering how just a year earlier, we’d all been together. Now our house was uninhabitable, and Reg was gone. Thankfully, my cats surrounded me on the bed and comforted me yet again.
I entered this world in 1971. Nixon was president, the U.S. banned cigarette advertising on TV, the Nasdaq debuted, Intel released the first microprocessor, Greenpeace formed, and the U.S. lowered the voting age to 18. These have had meaning in my life, but the 1971 event that stands out most for me is the opening of Disney World in Florida. This is the magical place where I got engaged. Every year, we visited my in-laws at a retirement community near Orlando. One year, my husband decided that when we returned the following year, he’d propose. He arranged a stay at Disney’s Contemporary Resort, also opened in 1971. We’d lived together many years and hadn’t discussed marriage. When we arrived, however, I commented multiple times about getting married; he ignored the comments. But as we watched the fireworks over Cinderella’s castle, he handed me a ring and asked, “Will you be my princess?” I thought he wanted to appease me and purchased a fake ring at the Disney store while I showered. I didn’t realize he’d planned the engagement until he told me the ring was “. . . a certified conflict-free, environmentally mined, not-from-Canada diamond ring.” That’s when I realized the diamond was real. I cherish that memory with its romance and comedy, and Disney World played a crucial part!
Words . . . they have the power to help us and hurt us. Sometimes, they confuse us. Mostly, we don’t give them much thought. As someone who doesn’t pay attention to pop culture and spends almost no time on social media, I’ve been clueless about words over the past few years. For example, I didn’t understand what a meme was. I kept hearing the word, but what did it mean? My nephew (28 at the time and social media savvy), had to explain it to me. Or “hashtag”—I’ve heard this word for years but didn’t understand its importance or why people use it. The Bublish CEO, Kathy, told me I should use hashtags when marketing my book. But why? She explained its use to me, and now I add hashtags—#griefsupport, #griefbooks, #widow, etc.—to my Facebook and blog posts. But otherwise, I’ve never used one or searched for one. While new social media words garner much attention, I believe other words don’t get enough: love, grief, acceptance, empathy . . . After my husband died, I noticed how much society wants grieving people to “heal” (a word I hate!) and doesn’t leave room for grief and struggle. We don’t accept people as they are unless they’re seemingly perfect. I believe we need more love and acceptance.
Compassion . . . what would the world be like if compassion were human’s driving force instead of self-interest and fear? Would people be happier? Would the planet have a better chance of survival? Are we even capable of putting others first and letting go of fear? Or has evolution left us wired for tribalism, self-interest, and callousness? I don’t know, but I believe we could all be more compassionate—not only to each other but to animals. I’ve always been wired to care deeply about animals and understand they’re sentient beings. At 13, I learned that veal results from tremendous suffering of baby calves. Therefore, I stopped eating all meat—beef, chicken, and seafood—so no animal would die for me. At 30, I discovered that even though cows and hens used in the dairy and egg industries don’t die, their suffering is immense; so, I gave up dairy and eggs (and now honey) to become vegan. I’m always baffled when the same people who call themselves compassionate think nothing of eating meat from a factory farm, where animals are abused and living in intolerable conditions. They accept testing on animals for cosmetics and scientific research while those sentient animals live in cages and suffer unbearable pain. Yes, I wish we’d extend compassion to all beings—human and animal!
I’ve wondered if I would’ve had the guts to harbor Jews or join the resistance in WW II, or stopped lynchings in the South, if I’d lived then. I’d like to think I would’ve been brave and stood on the moral side of history. So as I watch events unfolding, I feel guilty I’m not doing more. I’ve participated in many protests, but as I discuss in my book, I’m terrified of losing someone else I love. Therefore, because of COVID-19 concerns, I haven’t attended the peaceful protests. While history is unfolding, I’m standing on the sidelines. I won’t risk my mom, so what else can I do? Voting’s important, but I already vote. Otherwise, I’m not sure what to do and feel uncomfortable I’m not helping. Similarly, as a grief book author, I frequently think about the families suffering due to the 115,000+ Americans who’ve died from COVID alone. Behind every person who’s died, there are loved ones whose lives will never be the same. When their loved ones took their last breath, many spouses’ lives shattered. I feel powerless to stop that, and I don’t know how to get my book to those people. It wouldn’t take their pain away, but maybe it would help a little. I can’t reach them, though, so I just send them love.
I’m a white female who grew up in a middle-class neighborhood and was fortunate to receive a private-school education. I didn’t consider myself privileged; that’s all I knew. As an adult watching the world now, I realize I was—and am—“privileged.” I’ve never faced discrimination; only my abilities have mattered, not my skin. I traveled to Kenya two years ago, and I was occasionally the only white person. It was a strange experience, but I never felt unsafe. It saddens me that the opposite is true in America; a black person may feel and be unsafe. I don’t understand why there are such inequalities in our world. In my 30s, I visited a federal prison to help teach the inmates life coaching skills. I’ll never forget coaching a tall, muscular, black prisoner covered in tattoos. I remember thinking I’d probably be afraid of him alone in an alley. But, he sat in front of me sobbing; his mom had died while he was in prison, and he didn’t get to say goodbye. I remember reflecting that no matter what you look like on the outside, we’re all the same. We’re all humans—with the same emotions, needs, and desires. We especially all grieve the same. Why isn’t that obvious to all?
I saw a meme with a cartoon making a funny face with the text, “When you find out your normal daily lifestyle is called ‘quarantine.’” I laughed because that is me! I’ve worked from home since 2006, and I don’t have kids now needing homeschooling. Before quarantine, I joined WW to lose the six pounds I’ve gained over the years. I can’t eat at my favorite restaurants, so even if they were open, I still wouldn’t go. I can’t ride the spin bike at the gym, but I mostly exercised via walks/hikes anyway. During COVID-19, I’ve continued walking/hiking. Therefore, my new normal is almost identical to my old normal. However, what has changed is the need to wear a mask. On Tuesday, I went to the running store, where I’ve shopped for 10+years, to get new shoes. The store had the same energy with employees rushing to/from the back carrying multiple boxes of running shoes while customers waited to try them on. Everyone looked healthy. But, everyone wore a mask—a stark contrast to the old normal. I felt like I’d entered a bizarre world! Every year since 1998, I’ve participated in a 10k race in Boulder on Memorial Day. Even my husband’s cancer and father-in-law’s death didn’t stop me. But this year, it was postponed. Welcome to the new normal.
I’ve enjoyed some pleasant surprises during the COVID-19 quarantine. My book, Feeling Left Behind: Permission to Grieve, was named a finalist for two book awards: the Book Excellence Awards and Colorado Authors’ League (CAL) awards (I’m still waiting to hear if I won this one). I received notice of the Book Excellence Awards just as we entered quarantine. In early March, I attended Oprah’s 2020 Vision Tour at Denver’s Pepsi Center, the venue for professional hockey, basketball, and concert events. As I stood in a long line for the restroom (imagine the lines at a large venue filled almost exclusively with women!), I pulled out my phone to read my email. I had an email announcing I was a finalist! Wahoo! Before I had a chance to share the news, however, Colorado went into lockdown, and life became more uncertain. Though the news and recognition thrilled me, I felt uncomfortable and guilty sharing my joy knowing others were suffering. I finally shared the news, but I haven’t contacted the press yet. I received word about the CAL awards two weeks ago, and I haven’t contacted the press yet or told many people. My book is about grief, so I feel uncomfortable celebrating it while we’re given daily death tolls. But, I’m delighted and thankful for my surprise awards!
I’ve always loved to read. In college, I was fortunate enough to travel on one of the world’s most scenic train rides in Switzerland; rather than enjoying the gorgeous scenery, I buried my head in a book. I regret that now. But overall, I’m glad I love to read. Generally, I wouldn’t call my favorite books intellectual. Rather, I escape into them. I particularly like mystery and fictional crime books, especially when I’m at the gym; they tend to be fast-paced and distract me while I’m working out. When I get the chance to relax outside and read on a warm day, I also enjoy historical fiction. I love a gripping story while learning about history. A favorite reading memory is being in Glacier National Park with my husband. We hiked 13 miles, summiting majestic peaks with gorgeous scenery. That night, our bodies were tired; we sat by a fireplace in the lodge’s lobby, and I was engrossed in a book. It felt magical. I’m thankful for my book club because we often read books I wouldn’t otherwise read. For example, we read a nonfiction book about Custer and Crazy Horse. I knew nothing about either man but feel more knowledgeable now. Thanks to all the authors in the world who’ve provided us with so many wonderful books!
Creativity . . . The truth is that I don’t consider myself creative. My day job is editing, especially nonfiction and technical editing. There’s room for creativity and interpretation in editing, but it’s often black and white. Even in school, I think my easiest class was statistics. Sure, you can get creative in interpreting data, but generating the actual numbers is exact. The one place where I’m creative, however, is in scrapbooking. I almost always create a travel scrapbook when I’ve taken longer or international trips. I’ve done this since high school and am proud of them. I’ve felt particularly grateful for this habit since my husband’s death. By having detailed scrapbooks, I can remember and relive our vacations. He wasn’t photogenic, so he hated that I took so many photos. He believed the pictures should mostly have buildings and scenery, not people. Thankfully, I ignored this opinion and took the photographs anyway. He’s rolling his eyes in some of them, which contributes to remembering the moments. The scrapbooks also include text that describes where we stayed, how we felt, what we saw and experienced, and sometimes the conversations. I’d like to think that if I’d died first, he would’ve been glad to have the scrapbooks to reminisce. (and been glad the photos included us and not just buildings).
Last night I chatted with a friend in Canada. She said she feels guilty that she isn’t doing more to help during this pandemic. She sees news stories about chefs feeding thousands of people, musicians creating online concerts for charity, or people working tirelessly at food banks, not to mention healthcare workers. Interestingly, I’ve had this same conversation with two other friends—all of us feeling guilty that we haven’t done more, that we haven’t stepped into the fire, and that we can pay our mortgages and food bills. I’ve donated to two food banks along with my regular charitable donations; I wear a mask and social distance; I’ve purchased groceries for an older friend; I sit on the phone with my older neighbor who lost his wife recently. But somehow, that doesn’t seem enough. It seems like I should be delivering groceries to strangers or dancing down the street to entertain my neighbors (if you know me, you know that’s not my personality at all). Or . . . I don’t know what. With type I diabetes, I’m technically in the high-risk category, so I try to limit my exposure. But, I still feel guilty, along with at least three of my friends.
Some say laughter’s the best medicine. I believe even in the worst times, there’s a place for laughter. During this pandemic, I’ve laughed hysterically at some memes I’ve seen. One made me laugh so hard I had tears streaming down my face and could hardly breathe. It was a picture of Star Trek’s Capitan Kirk and Spock with these words: “We’re time traveling to the year 2020!” The next photo showed them coming back with the words, “5 minutes later: Nope, nope, nope. Bad idea.” My mom had sent it to me; when I called to thank her, I couldn’t even get the words out because I was laughing so hard. I’ve also seen many memes revolving around the extra snacks people are eating while stuck at home. They’ve all made me laugh (I can relate!). I’ve forwarded the memes to my hairdresser, who’s undoubtedly stressed having to close her salon during this lockdown. She told me the different memes have kept her going. Another friend works at a nursing home; he tells me work has gotten very tense. So, he thanks me for sending him the funny memes. They obviously don’t change his work situation. But, laughter brings a respite from the fear and stress. Thank you to all the creative and funny people who’ve created these!
Today, I received an email highlighting a doctor’s overwhelming stress and fear on the front lines of this pandemic. The email also mentioned how his wife cries nightly when he returns home. I recognize I should’ve had empathy for this woman. But as I discuss in my book, I lost some empathy when my husband died. I understand why this wife is fearful, but I’d give anything to cry at the end of the day because my husband returned home. Mine will never come home; in the worst and scariest days, I can’t turn to him to talk or receive comfort. So while I realize I probably should feel compassion for this woman, I’d gladly trade places with her, even if that means spending my days in fear. Similarly, my friend complained she was tired of being quarantined with her husband. She quickly realized her comment was insensitive, knowing I wish I were quarantined with mine. I listened to her but didn’t feel much empathy. Please understand, however, that I have tremendous empathy for some: those unable to hold their loved ones’ hands as they die or to have a funeral, those dying alone in the hospital, low-income children falling further behind, kids and animals trapped with an abuser, people unable to feed their kids and pets, and many others.
Normally, I walk daily in my local park with my mom. But the park is too crowded to maintain a six-foot distance from others, let alone from each other; so during this time, we’ve explored many new walking experiences. Yesterday, we discovered a wildlife refuge. From the parking lot, we walked along the dirt trail and felt delighted to see prairie dog hills. Periodically, a prairie dog popped its head out of its hole and barked. As we continued to walk, we assured them we would do them no harm. Unfortunately, the area sits next to the highway leading to Denver’s airport. So as we walked, we heard constant traffic noise, which was surprising given the current circumstances. At one point, we looked up and saw an airplane overhead, and we pondered who was flying right now. The highlight of the walk was a group of six buffalo grazing on the meadow. They were massive and starting to shed their fur. We stood so close to the airport, yet here buffalo live on an open prairie like the old days. At the end of our walk, the sun started to set. As we watched the beautiful sunset over the mountains, a lone buffalo browsed in the foreground. What a gorgeous picture! At that moment, my world felt peaceful.
My husband used to say we didn’t fit in the world. As I’m navigating another day of self-quarantine, I’m once again realizing how true that still is. Unlike most people, I’m not using words like “this tough time” or “challenging” or “when is this going to end?” Yes, parts of this experience challenge me. But, my entire world hasn’t been thrown into a tailspin. Maybe that’s because my world shattered years ago when my husband died. I learned then that life wasn’t fair. I learned then that life holds no guarantees, and what you take for granted can disappear in a heartbeat. I stopped expecting life to always be cheerful. So, this lockdown just feels like another bump in the road. At the same time, I’m hopeful that maybe—just maybe—we humans will change. Perhaps we’ll finally realize that spending time with loved ones is more important than working constantly and consuming more and more. Every day (pre-coronavirus) I’ve struggled watching the environmental destruction and species’ extinctions and suffering. Maybe we’ll see how the environment and animal species are getting a respite right now, and we’ll finally start treating Mother Earth with more respect. Perhaps we’ll realize we’re all one and our actions affect others. Maybe we’ll finally be people our cats and dogs can be proud of.
My new normal is . . . the same as my old normal. I’ve worked from home for 14 years. For years, I’ve spent my first working hours in my pajamas, dealt with needy cats demanding attention while I’m working, and chosen when—or if—to shower. For years, I’ve exercised by walking in the park (interspersed with the gym). Since my mid-20s, I’ve disliked grocery shopping, so I’ve purchased enough for at least two weeks. I’ve looked like a food hoarder long before it became a thing. After my husband died, the world didn’t feel emotionally safe for me; when I left home, happy couples bombarded me, or I had to listen to friends talk incessantly—even complain—about their husbands, while mine was gone. So, I mostly isolated myself in my house, where I felt safe. While I don’t need grief isolation now, I’m content being alone at night. With self-quarantine happening now, it seems the rest of the world has finally entered my world. But here’s where my new normal has changed: I have to switch parks because my park has gotten too crowded to stay six feet apart. I now wipe down grocery carts or use a towel to enter public spaces. I worry about touching surfaces my mom (79) might touch. Otherwise, it’s status quo.
This week’s Bublish inspiration centers on creativity. I rarely consider myself creative. Sure, I wrote a book, but it’s a nonfiction book about grief. I wasn't required to come up with a plot twist or create characters; I just told my story. In this current coronavirus crisis, I haven’t discovered an imaginative way to save the world. I have, however, found resourceful ways to think positively about what’s occurring. I went hiking this week and focused on the chipmunks exploring, the birds singing, the trees blowing in the wind, the beautiful blue sky, and my ability to be outside enjoying it all—despite the fear and discomfort throughout the human race. I’ve thought about the tribesmen I met in Kenya who live on so little and yet are happy. Can we too? I’ve focused a lot on the benefits to the environment. We’re driving less, so we’re putting fewer emissions into the air. We’re producing less, so we aren’t using so many of Mother Nature’s precious resources. Yes, when I hear about people fearful for their jobs and survival, I can get sucked into the panic and worry for mine too. But this week, I've chosen to stay focused on the positive. I can’t solve the problems, but I can at least try to not contribute to them.
World chaos, virus scares, and fears of nuclear war don’t normally affect me. My belief is that when it’s my time to die, I will die no matter what I do. All the deaths I’ve experienced in my life have shown me that. If anything, I think about the best way to die (I prefer fast and painless over any suffering). But while I’m generally not affected, the coronavirus has sent me in a downward spiral of fear. I’m not worried about contracting it and certainly not concerned about dying. I’m even going to a concert tonight and have attended other large gatherings this week. My fear revolves around the economic impact. I don’t hold a regular job, so I don’t earn a consistent salary. Instead, I rely on freelance work. As the stock market has tumbled and as I receive daily emails regarding organizations’ closures, I’ve panicked that I’ll soon feel the effects. Will I be able to find editing and writing work? Will I be able to pay my bills? So, I’ve tried to turn to my cats during this time. As fear and chaos swirl around me, I try to focus on them. They happily run throughout the house and demand attention without realizing there’s a pandemic. They give me perspective—when I remember to let them.
The coronavirus . . . news of it is everywhere! Yesterday I received an email from my vet explaining that dogs and cats don’t transmit diseases to humans and that there are no known cases of coronavirus in pets. This led me to believe my vet has received many inquiries from other pet parents. My endocrinologist’s office emailed their policy regarding the coronavirus. I had the misfortune of running out of frozen blueberries, which I purchase at Costco, the day after news outlets suggested we stock up on food. Have you ever shopped at Costco the day after a possible apocalypse is announced? The store was packed with people! Maybe I’m in denial, but I’m not worried about this. I stocked up on cat food just in case I can’t get more food. I’d hate for my cats to starve because I was unprepared. Also, I purchased some extra cans of soup and have taken immune-boosting supplements. But, that’s it. Tomorrow I’m attending an Oprah event with 15,000 excited people. My only concern is that Oprah will cancel, not that I’ll be surrounded by so many people. I have a more accepting view of death though. I believe when it’s our time, it’s our time—whether it’s the coronavirus or something else. So, I don’t worry.
Best-selling author Wayne Dyer used to say, “Don’t die with your music still in you.” I agree. As an author of a grief book, I’m passionate about encouraging people to recognize that tomorrow isn’t guaranteed. My husband was healthy, yet cancer called and took him. My sister died at 38 and my brother-in-law at 46. When I was 11, I was minutes from death and had to stay in the ICU. So, I know that in a flash, life can change. You can’t wait until tomorrow to tell people you love them. You can’t wait until tomorrow or until you’re older, richer, thinner, etc. to truly live your life. For that reason, I took my mom to San Diego last weekend. She loves walking on the beach; for years she’s said she wants to travel to California to explore the beaches. Yet, we hadn’t scheduled a trip. With the thinking that the future isn’t certain, I decided we wouldn’t delay any longer. Along with my nephew, we spent three days walking San Diego beaches and enjoying tasty vegan food. I hope and expect my mom to live for many more years. But just in case, I was no longer willing to wait. How about you? What have you delayed doing? I encourage you to do it; tomorrow isn’t guaranteed.
Today is Valentine’s Day. When I was in high school, the junior class sold carnations and delivered them to students in the classrooms. While the deliveries periodically interrupted the class and caused angst for students who didn’t receive flowers, it was a successful fundraiser each year. My mom always sent me a few flowers, but I never had a boyfriend. So, I didn’t like Valentine’s Day. My husband didn’t like obligations, and in his mind, Valentine’s Day was an obligation. He often was romantic, but he refused to have a made-up holiday demand that of him. When we started dating, he told me restaurants overcharge on Valentine’s Day, so we wouldn’t go out to dinner. Florists give inferior flowers and overcharge on that day, so he wouldn’t give me flowers. I’m a practical person, so that made sense to me. Because he no longer felt obligated, he frequently sent me flowers and often cooked dinner for me on Valentine’s Day. Each year when I received flowers, I was surprised. And when I didn’t receive them, I didn’t care. I’m glad we didn’t make a big deal of this day. Today, many of my widowed friends are feeling extra pain missing their loved ones. To me, it’s a fake holiday that’s never been a highlight of my year, so I’m ok.
I wrote my book to support other widows/widowers. I wanted them to know they aren’t alone and that their feelings are normal. After losing my husband, I discovered our society is inept at dealing with grief. So, I set out to help. I didn’t realize, however, how much work it would take. Publishing the book meant many edits, finding (and paying) the best people to design the book’s interior and cover, getting copyrights, deciding on a distributor, and more. I had serious decision fatigue by the time I published the book. But, it didn’t end there. Marketing the book takes hard work. I constantly have to be vulnerable and share my experiences, so I can connect with my audience. When I want to relax, I feel guilty for not doing more for the book. Honestly, I wasn’t looking for a second job; I just wanted to help others. It’s actually not even a job; with a job, you get paid for your hard work. With my book, I have to pay others to help with book promotion—often to no avail. Sometimes I want to quit. But when I hear about recently widowed people who hurt (which happened last night), I remember why I wrote the book. Maybe I—with my book—can help them!
Last week, my choir director went into the bathroom before practice began, and she died suddenly. All of us were unnerved, sad, and shocked. A fellow soprano started crying hard saying our director’s death gave her perspective. She had just argued with her husband, and the death was a wake-up call. This death shocked me; but, it wasn’t a wake-up call. Why? I already live my life as if today could be my last. I lost my sister when I was 31 and my husband when I was 42. I’ve experienced firsthand that my loved ones can be taken, and I can’t take them for granted. I know I can be here one minute, and the next minute I could die. Therefore, I focus on my priorities and what really matters to me. My 79-year-old mom and I walk almost daily. I tell my good friends what they mean to me. I sit with my cats daily because they’re a huge priority for me. Two years ago, I traveled to Kenya because that was the last item on my bucket list. I published my book last year, so I’d have no regrets. I won’t die with the music still in me (though I might regret not eating more cookies). I’ve focused on what truly matters to me. How about you?
After my husband died, I befriended twelve widowed people, and I share their experiences and feelings in my book. I learned that no matter our backgrounds, our losses and bereavement connect us. For example, I’m now friends with a woman I have nothing in common with—except our loss. We both grew up in Denver, but in completely different neighborhoods. She’s a high school graduate, and I have a master’s degree. She enjoys vacationing in Las Vegas; I prefer isolation in the mountains. Yet, we’ve become close because of our husband’s deaths. Similarly, I became friends with a man who became homeless after his wife died. Saddled with her huge medical bills and using alcohol for his grief, he lost everything. He’s older, lives in poverty, and works at Goodwill. I’m middle-aged, have only donated to Goodwill, and work as an editor from home in a nice neighborhood. Yet, we’re connected through our losses. Prior to widowhood, we likely wouldn’t have interacted. Now, we’re friends. Another widowed friend has political views that are polar opposite of mine. Yet, we’re connected and close due to our understanding of each other’s life after loss. Widowhood is a club—that no one wants to join—that connects us no matter our beliefs and circumstances. I’m thankful for this connection.
I love all animals, but I should only look at equines, not experience them. When I was 6, my family went horseback riding. This was my first experience on a horse; lucky me, I got the runaway horse. Apparently, runaway horses usually run back to the barn, but my horse took off in the opposite direction. Our young wrangler stood motionless and dumbfounded while my mom told me to hang on tight. My mom grew up around horses and while she wasn’t an expert horsewoman, she raced after me. She lined up next to me and said on the count of three to let go. After multiple tries, I finally let go, and she grabbed me around the waist and swooped me onto her horse (while my horse continued running). My next equine experience occurred when I was 8 and in the Dominican Republic. Our destination? A castle atop a hill, and the only way up was via donkeys on a steep, narrow path. One misstep, and the donkeys—with the humans—would topple down the hill. Somehow, I got separated from my family. My mom frantically tried to reach me, but she disappeared in a loud cacophony of Spanish. I was alone and terrified. We reunited at the top, but that sealed my fear of equine riding forever.
A perfect winter scene . . . living in Colorado, I’ve experienced many beautiful, snowy days. When I lived in Vail, a ski resort, I used to walk to the local golf course and snowshoe after a heavy snowstorm. I loved the freedom of walking outside—alone—and being in nature as I got good exercise. Living in Denver, I don’t get many days like that anymore. But last month, we received close to two feet of snow, and I reside three blocks from a park. So, I put on my fleece long underwear, which I hadn’t worn in years, and gators. Then I grabbed my snowshoes and headed to the park. I hadn’t snowshoed in years, and it uses muscles I rarely use. With each step, it felt like I was lifting 10 extra pounds, and my hamstrings felt it! But, I felt a sense of peace that I haven’t felt in a while. There was little traffic due to the snow, so the park was quieter than normal; I was alone with the geese. It brought me back to my younger years—the time before I’d lost my husband, a time when I felt like the world was mine to conquer, and a time before Colorado became overcrowded. I enjoyed stepping into those memories and feeling that peace.
I used to sit down each New Year’s to create the year I wanted. I’d set specific goals and identified why I desired those results. I’d visualize my dreams daily and feel the emotions I’d experience when I achieved them. But, usually, those goals and dreams still eluded me. Even more importantly, when my husband got cancer and died, I learned we can set intentions, believe we’ll accomplish them, and work hard to achieve them; yet, sometimes, we have no control over life. It can change quickly, and we can do nothing about that. Therefore, I’ve stopped looking at New Year’s as a time to set goals; instead, I’ve decided to just go with the flow. I’ve set the intention to fulfill my life’s purpose(s). I’ve set the intention to spend time with my family, including my cats, because I understand too well they won’t always be here. I’ve planned some vacation adventures. If I could wave a wand, my book would take off and be “the” book grieving widows turn to after their loss. Grief counselors would include it on their recommended reading list. Grief podcasts and summits would ask me to speak, and bookstores would stock and recommend it. I’ll work toward those outcomes, but I also know sometimes life can go in another direction. So, I’m open.
We’ve barely finished Christmas, and already I feel bombarded by New Year’s emails, promotions, people telling us to set goals, etc. Even on Christmas day, I received emails from organizations talking about 2019 ending. It was only Christmas; why were they already sending these emails? One reason I enjoy Christmas is that life gets more focused on family, giving, connecting with friends, and being friendlier to strangers—in other words, it’s not focused on productivity (unless you’re in retail counting on Christmas for profits). Many people who’ve moved to Denver return to their homes for Christmas, so I can finally drive through town without traffic, which is thrilling. My husband liked to work the week between Christmas and New Year’s because the office was empty. His coworkers frequently asked him for help because he was smart and very good at his job. During Christmas week, he could finally work without interruptions. But I’ve always enjoyed the slower pace between Christmas and New Year’s. When January 1 rolls around, society will go back to the frantic, rat race mentality. All those cars will return to the roads. People will start focusing on work and goals rather than giving and connecting. I hate that! And this year, it feels like that’s already started. I, meanwhile, will go kicking and screaming into 2020!
I love holiday traditions. Once I have an experience and like it, I repeat it until it becomes a tradition. My favorite is Christmas Eve dinner. Since I was a little girl, my family has gathered on Christmas Eve for dinner (now vegan) and playing games. We usually invite “orphans” with no place to go. I stuff my face and relish the games. When my husband died, I wanted to cancel this dinner, as it felt too painful without him. But my family wanted to continue the tradition. I now once again look forward to it every year. We used to attend the Denver Christmas parade, but I couldn’t continue that tradition without my husband. Obviously, other traditions I had with just my husband (e.g., drinking cider during tree decorating) are gone. But I’ve maintained the traditions I've had with my mom. One tradition is visiting a small mountain town, Georgetown, where we go each year. We purchase roasted chestnuts from a local nonprofit with a booth in the middle of the town’s quaint Christmas market. We also enjoy driving to Golden, another small town, to watch its annual Christmas parade. It’s a small-town parade where the kids throw candy, and Santa arrives on the fire truck. It’s not sophisticated, but it’s charming. I love our traditions!
I have many wonderful Christmas memories. In fact, unlike many people, I don’t find Christmas chaotic or stressful. The first Christmases after my husband died were painful and sad. But most of my Christmases have been filled with fun, joy, and love. I remember waking one Christmas morning and discovering a Barbie RV under the Christmas tree. Wow! I can still see it sitting unwrapped under the tree and feel my unbounded delight. When I was slightly older, I asked Santa for a race car track. I received the track, and my stocking also held spare train tracks. Though I hadn’t asked for a train set, I was excited because I obviously was receiving one. However, I unwrapped all my presents and there was no train. I learned later that my mom thought the train tracks were spare race car tracks. Oops! She declared that maybe Santa would give me a train set the next year. By the following Christmas, I’d forgotten about it—disaster diverted! A favorite adult memory is when my husband surprised my family by dressing as Santa. We’d hidden his Santa outfit in my mom’s basement. During Christmas Eve dinner, he slipped downstairs and returned wearing the outfit. As he entered saying, “Ho ho ho,” the table erupted in laughter. It was magical and unforgettable!
The holiday season is here. This can be a challenging and heartbreaking time for those who are grieving. When you’ve lost a loved one, the holidays don’t feel like the “most wonderful time of the year.” Instead, it’s a time when your loved one's absence is even more obvious and painful, and previous holiday memories inevitably come flooding back. I recently held a webinar with another grief author with suggestions on handling the holidays while grieving. One suggestion was to honor your loved one. For example, I set a place at my family’s Christmas Eve dinner for my husband. I place his photo on the plate and a teddy bear in his chair. I’ve had family members share their favorite memory or stories about him. Another suggestion is to plan ahead if you decide to attend events. For example, drive yourself so you can leave early if you want. I went to a Christmas party a few weeks after my husband died. I walked in and walked right back out. By driving myself, I could do that. Although I still wish my husband were here to celebrate with me, I enjoy the holidays now—the decorations, music, and festive atmosphere. I think that’s partly due to time and partly because I incorporate my husband into the holidays.
For Thanksgiving, this bubble is dedicated to those who’ve supported me in this book journey. Thanks to my mom, Pam, who’s championed me throughout the process. To my grief counselor, Diane, who encouraged me and affirmed that grieving spouses need this book. To Dr. Patti Ashley, who saved me from having to find another endorsement when she called and said, “Oh my God, I love your book!” To Dr. Patti Luckenbach, who specializes in grief and believed in the book; she wrote a beautiful endorsement and a handwritten note telling me how much she liked the book. To Dianne Armstrong for repeatedly telling me how helpful she thought the book would be. To Ginger and Kathy for reading the book‘s early copies. To Arleen for reminding me why the book was important by repeatedly asking me when she could purchase it. To Elisa Malangone for telling me the type of photo that should be on the book’s cover and for recommending the book to her grieving clients. To Michelle Fairbanks and Michelle Argyle who were patient throughout the process of designing the book. To Alexa Bigwarfe for sharing publishing resources, making it easier for me to self-publish. To everyone who’s given a review and to all readers who’ve trusted me with their grief and read the book. Thank you!
In my grieving journey, I’ve discovered words that anger me: “moving on,” “moving forward,” and “heal.” Of the words that well-meaning friends have thrown at me, I find heal particularly bothersome. The definition of heal is to “make free from injury or disease; to make well again; to restore to original purity or integrity.” Basically, “heal” infers something is wrong that needs to be fixed. I didn’t have a disease or broken bones. I didn’t skim my knee, which would scar and heal. My husband died, and I felt shattered. Yes, eventually I’d learn to live without him; I’d laugh again and have fun. But I’m not the person I was and don’t have the same innocence I once had. I’m forever changed. My heart now has a hole that can’t fully heal. It may stop hurting eventually, but the place where he resided in my heart will always have a hole. So don’t tell me to heal. Don’t expect me to be the way I once was. Don’t suppose I’ll heal by eating healthy foods, seeking religion, exercising, staying busy, making new friends, joining new groups, talking to a medium, dating, or the other ideas people suggest. They may help, but they won’t make me free from injury or restore original purity; they won't fix me.
In my past, I believed in goals. I’ve had many goals I never reached (e.g., those pesky pounds still cling to my body). But I’ve achieved many, especially the goal I set to find a wonderful man and have a loving relationship. I used to be a life coach and frequently worked with clients on formulating specific goals and then reaching them. But when my husband died, the thought of goals seemed ridiculous. After he died, a friend asked me what goals I could set now. That seemed like a stupid question to me. I remember thinking that even if I achieve every goal I set, I’ll never have the life I want—a life with him. Also, after he died, I could barely breathe, let alone create goals. This year, however, I finally set a goal for my book. My husband died 11 days after his 48th birthday. That means he had to wrap up his entire life by that date. August 3 was 11 days after I turned 48, so I was determined to publish and launch my book (a goal) by August 3. I completed the goal and launched on August 1! Wahoo! I haven’t set a specific goal for the book now, but I hope to help as many widows/widowers as I can with the book.
I detest Daylight Savings Time. I hate driving in the dark, so when it gets dark at 5:00 p.m., I have no desire to leave my house (especially when it’s cold). As I discuss in my book, becoming a widow already made me want to isolate myself. I don’t need the dark to make that even worse. I also have this quirk where I can feel my body start to get jittery if I’m working past dark, which means my productivity goes down once Daylight Savings happens. I haven’t been diagnosed with seasonal affective disorder, but I definitely need sunshine to be happy; when it gets dark early, I can’t get as much sun as I’d like. Also, November is already a hard time for me. My wedding anniversary is November 4. My husband’s birthday is four days later, and he died 11 days later. So November already has plenty of days that leave me feeling depressed and sorrowful. Add Daylight Savings to that, and it makes for a miserable month for me. Not long ago, Colorado’s legislature tried to get rid of Daylight Savings, and I was hopeful we’d be rid of this dreaded time period. But there was enough opposition that it didn’t get changed. Therefore, I guess I’m stuck with it.
Facing your fears . . . I’ve had some success with that. I once coached male inmates at a federal, medium-security prison. As a female in my early 30s, I was scared to walk in there. But that’s exactly why I did it; I wanted to face that fear and walk through it. Recently, I faced a fear of traveling alone. I’d always wanted to visit Africa to see the amazing animals. Last year, as I approached my 47th birthday, I realized that if I were my husband, I’d only have roughly one year left to live. So, I wanted to check that off my list. I invited at least four friends to join me, but no one would go. Despite being nervous, I traveled to Kenya by myself and met up with a wonderful group of women (so I wasn’t entirely alone, but they were strangers). I’m glad I faced that fear because it was an incredible trip. Of course, publishing my book caused fear. What if it failed? What if people judged me? It’s a vulnerable book, and now it’s out there for the world to see. It’s a bit terrifying. Those examples aside, I’d be lying if I said I’ve faced all my fears. Progress not perfection . . .
I have a love/hate relationship with technology. I love how texting makes it easy to communicate, schedule a get together, and stay in contact with people far away. For example, in my book I talk about how I text with my husband’s sister and friend during Packers football games, giving me a feeling of connection. I’m grateful technology allows me to work from home and not deal with a daily commute, soul-crushing traffic, and bad weather. Also, I’m grateful I live in an age when videos exist, so I have movies and voice recordings of my husband. If I lived in a different age, he’d be completely gone once he died. I’d have to rely on my memory. Thankfully, I have videos, his emails and texts, and photos to help me remember him. But while I love technology in many ways, I also dislike it. I hate the constant bombardment of emails and that I can receive work emails at all hours and all days. I detest how quickly technology becomes obsolete, causing huge amounts of toxic waste in our landfills. I abhor hearing drones flying overhead when I’m in nature and listening to loud music playing from cell phones while I’m hiking. Yes, I have a love/hate relationship with technology!
Last weekend I attended my 30-year high school reunion. Although I still live in the same city and frequently go for walks near my high school, it still felt somewhat like a homecoming. I hadn’t seen most of my classmates since our 20-year reunion. But in the meantime, my life has radically shifted. My husband attended my last reunion, and now he’s gone. Also, Denver has changed drastically—from a friendly, smaller city to a hustling, somewhat unfriendly, overcrowded city with stifling traffic. Most of my classmates still live in Denver, so it felt to me like I was coming home; I was coming back to people who remember the old Denver and who remember the old me. Something about that comforted me. However, the reunion was also difficult. My classmates still had their same spouses who attended our 20-year reunion. I kept wondering why they got to keep their spouses, while I didn’t. Also, my husband and I discussed attending his 30-year reunion, but he died too soon. I was conscious of that when I showed up at mine. As we dispersed for the night, I was keenly aware of how my classmates were leaving with their spouses while I was driving home alone. That made me sad, and I cried the whole way home.
This week, Bublish encouraged authors to write about a time when we were unprepared. Obviously, I was woefully unprepared for my husband’s death. But rather than talking about that, I decided to focus on a time when I took my nephew hiking up Vail Mountain, with its 2,200-foot elevation gain. He was probably 10 and dependent on me to get him to the top safely. But in typical Colorado fashion, a cold rainstorm came in the afternoon. Not wanting to get caught by lightning, we hunkered down and didn’t move. Although I had a small pack on me, I was unprepared and had no extra clothing. As we waited out the storm, in a shivering voice, my nephew said, “Auntie, what does it feel like to have hypothermia?” Ouch! That broke my heart! The poor kid was freezing! As soon as the rain stopped, we proceeded on the trail. It turns out we were within 10 minutes of the top, where the lodge awaited—with bathrooms, heat, and food. Had I known, we would’ve run the last 10 minutes and gotten inside before the rain started! Now, having learned my lesson, I always carry a larger pack with a raincoat, gloves, hat, and at least one layer of clothing—even when no rain is predicted. This is Colorado after all!
I believe it’s important to celebrate (or at least observe) milestones. I celebrated high school, college, and graduate school graduations. Every year, I celebrate my birthday with a hike and dinner. With my book, however, I’ve been neglectful about honoring the milestones. When I sent the finished manuscript to the editor, I felt I should celebrate. But, I didn’t have the motivation to plan anything. Thankfully, I already had dinner plans with a friend that same day, so she bought dinner. When I sent the final manuscript to the distributor, I wanted to celebrate. But, I had work (day job) projects, so I didn’t even pause to congratulate myself. When the book launched, I definitely felt I should celebrate. Book experts say authors should have a launch party and a launch team. I didn’t have time to put together a party and team, and no one volunteered. In truth, I was afraid to ask anyone to be on my launch team and was nervous people wouldn’t come to my party. Plus, I already had plans the night my book launched. So, I never had a party; instead, I had a quick dinner with my mom. A friend launched her book with a fabulous party, so I felt anxious that I didn’t. Now, it’s probably too late. I missed my milestones.
My book has one theme: grief. I wrote the book to help grieving people, especially widows and widowers. Grief, however, is obviously not the entire theme of my life. Some of my life’s themes include fighting for and enjoying animals and the environment (e.g., being vegan), and exploring and pondering the afterlife. For example, what happens after we die? How much of life is free will versus predestiny? For instance, I talk about my friend Lawrence throughout my book. Three years after his wife died, he died of a heart attack (enlarged heart). But earlier in the year, he’d almost drowned while getting sucked into an undertow in Mexico. He told me that as he sank down, he thought, “This isn’t how I thought I’d die, but okay.” He then let go assuming he’d die, and he bounced to the surface and survived. A couple months later, he almost crashed on his motorcycle while going 65+ MPH. He was amazed he survived. A few months later, he died. An autopsy showed he also had kidney cancer, which he hadn’t known. So, that could’ve killed him. It makes me wonder if he was just destined to die that year one way or another—as if his body and soul had a predetermined exit point. Perhaps it was destiny. Or was it?
Today millions of people around the world are protesting against climate change. In Australia alone, an estimated 300,000 people have taken to the streets. These protests have been organized by the youth—the people who’ll face the largest consequences of climate change during their lives. I admire the youth who’ve started this movement. Their determination, perseverance, and spirit inspire and astound me. I hope world leaders will listen to them because the planet doesn’t care about political parties and divisions. As I discuss in my book, my husband was an environmentalist; I felt the planet lost when he died because Reg was such an advocate, and people listened to him. I also discuss how I used to actively participate in trying to save the environment and particularly animals. But after he died, I couldn’t engage in the world. I just didn’t have the energy or emotional capacity. I felt I would be consumed by sadness if I focused on animals and the environment. However, I’ve now reengaged. I even met one-on-one with my councilman last month to discuss his proposal for Denver’s climate initiatives. I’ve shown up at many protests and called my representatives on issues I care about (which I was unable to do in my grief). I’ll try to make the Denver climate change march today.
What if . . . I’ve wondered this often since my husband’s death (which is what my book is about). What if we’d removed his thyroid sooner—before cancer could take over? Would he still be alive? What if we’d not gone the traditional route with chemotherapy, radiation, and surgery and instead done everything possible to boost his body’s immune system? Would he still be alive? What if I’d done everything possible to make his life stress-free? Would he still be alive? Or my favorite what if question . . . what if he could find another body and return? When I was young, I enjoyed a movie called Heaven Can Wait with Warren Beatty. Beatty’s character had an overanxious guardian angel who accidentally took Beatty away from his body and took him to heaven before he was supposed to die. His angel had to correct this mistake, so Beatty returned to life in another body. What if my husband could do that? Theoretically, he’d still have the same personality, but would I recognize him? Would I know—truly know—him if he weren’t the blonde, blue-eyed man I’d known? I would love the chance to find out!
In my book, I discuss how important nature was—and still is—in my journey. In fact, I just returned from a short vacation in Ouray in southwestern Colorado, where nature is center stage. The town sits at 7,700 feet surrounded by 13,000-foot, snowcapped peaks that make it seem as if the mountains jet up from the town. Massive volcanic eruptions, glacial erosion, water, and wind over millions of years carved out these majestic and magnificent mountains. Each year, the force of the melting snowpack creates stunning and roaring waterfalls that take your breath away. While there, I hiked these mountains daily. I paused to listen to the streams and thundering falls. I climbed high and exerted myself to feel isolated in the mountains. My husband and I had visited this town many years ago when he surprised me with a birthday trip to a neighboring town. I remember being stunned at the beauty of these mountains, despite having visited or lived in the Rocky Mountains my whole life. On my vacation this week, I was once again astounded at the beauty. I made sure to spread some of Reg’s ashes in flower beds around town and remember our time there. I wish he’d been able to visit with me this time, but I brought him in spirit.
I never thought I’d write a book. But Toni Morrison said, “If there’s a book that you want to read, but it hasn't been written yet, then you must write it.” After my husband died, I could only find books that discussed how I could thrive again, how everything happens for a reason, how I should take care of myself to “get through” the experience, or how when one door closes, open a new one. I couldn’t find a book that simply acknowledged how painful the loss is. I couldn’t find a book to tell me it’s ok to grieve and that I can grieve in my own time and my own way. Thankfully, I had widow friends who validated my feelings and made me realize I was normal. I had an amazing grief counselor who also let me know everything I felt was common. I recognize, however, that most widows, especially young widows, don’t have other widows or a grief counselor to validate them and give them permission to grieve; this is especially true as friends and society push for them to move forward. So, I did what Toni Morrison suggested—I wrote the book! I don’t know that I’d write another book. It took tremendous amounts of time and stress, but I felt compelled to write this one.
I always dread when summer turns to fall. I used to drive my husband crazy fearing the end of summer, even in July when I still had plenty of summer to enjoy. I can’t help it. I love summer’s freedom and long days, along with the fun vacations, a slower pace of life, beautiful hikes, and the chance to sit on my patio and read. On the other hand, fall signals death to me—death of the leaves, longer nights, colder days, and a faster pace of life. My husband died in November, so that’s even more true now. Therefore, I cherish summer. I launched my book on August 1, so a good portion of my summer has revolved around coordinating the final details of the book (final proofreading, final design elements, registering for a copyright, and more). Since the launch, I’ve had quite a bit of work (my book is not my job) plus marketing the book. Therefore, I’ve spent more time inside on my computer than outside, where I crave being in summer. At least I've hiked to a few alpine lakes, which were stunning and quiet. I’m still hoping to take a quick summer vacation and spend at least a day outside reading. But it feels like I’m starting to run out of time. . .
After the Columbine shooting, I started attending a spiritual church to try to make sense of the shooting. At each service, the congregation sang “Let There Be Peace on Earth.” I haven’t attended a service for at least 10 years, but I’ve been told they still sing that song at the start of each service. One day, I discussed this song with my family members and said how I couldn’t believe that 20 years later they were still singing that song, yet it seems like nothing has changed; we still don’t have peace in the world. My mom attended a similar church when she was a child and said they sang that same song when she was young. It really struck me how people have been singing this song for 70 years, yet peace eludes us. I talk about peace frequently in my book—not world peace but inner peace. After losing my spouse, people wanted me to be “okay” or “better.” I felt that peace was most important to me. I felt broken, and I just needed to feel some degree of inner peace. I found peace by accepting where I was at emotionally, spending time in nature, talking about my husband, and surrounding myself with animals.
As a hard-working and dedicated straight-A student, I never felt excited to go back to school. In fact, I dreaded it. During the summer, I’d read, swim, travel, and enjoy life while only working occasionally. As soon as school returned, my life became stressful, jam-packed, and often overwhelming. Also, I’ve always loved summer’s warm and long days. I’m more productive in summer (as an adult), and my favorite activities take place in summer (i.e., hiking). In winter, the nights are long with cold days, which I despise. Therefore, to this day, when I see back-to-school supplies hit the store shelves, I feel extremely anxious. I’m never ready for summer to end and feel dread wash over me as I see the supplies or hear people mention back to school. I start feeling that I have to pack in as many hikes as I can. Due to my book launch this August and my regular work, I’ve spent even more time inside on my computer than outside doing what I enjoy. So I feel particularly anxious that school’s about to start. I can feel myself frantically trying to figure out when I can hike and when I can take a trip to the mountains for vacation before it’s too late. This year and every year, it’s as if death is coming.
If I look at my life, I’ve taken actions that others thought were bold. They didn’t feel brave to me though; they felt like what I was supposed to do. In my late 20s, I quit my secure, high-paying job to become a life coach. My corporate friends told me I was brave. I felt my life needed meaning, and I knew I was on the planet to do more than sit in a cubicle working tremendous hours to make money for stockholders. Therefore, it didn’t feel brave. Last year, I went to Kenya by myself. My friends thought this was brave. I didn’t think so because I met up with a group of women. They were strangers, but I still wasn’t entirely alone. It was a wonderful trip, so it was worth it. Probably the boldest move I’ve made is publishing this book. It contains my intimate, raw feelings and experiences. It’s a vulnerable book, and strangers (and friends) can now judge me. My widowed friends say there’s no way they would want strangers to know their grief. They call me brave. I feel fearful, so I guess this must be a bold move.
As I discuss in my book, I love animals, especially my cats. They bring me laughter, comfort, unconditional love, and total glee. One quirky—maybe embarrassing—thing I do is sing to them. Do you remember the song “Hey Mickey” from the 80s? I frequently sing it to my cat Rita, but I substitute her name. “Oh Rita you’re so fine; you’re so fine you blow my mind; hey Rita; hey Rita.” I put emphasis on Rita and draw out “Hey Rita” in an excitable voice. Rita, on the other hand, just stares at me in a calm manner as I sing to her (likely thinking I’m batty!). I also sing the Beatles song “Lovely Rita” to her. I change the lyrics slightly to say, “Lovely Rita, Rita Maid” (rather than “meter maid”). Interestingly, when I went to a psychic medium after my husband died, she said, “Why am I singing ‘lovely Rita meter maid?’” I used to sing that song to Rita even when he was alive, but only my husband, my cats, and I knew that. I was thrilled he put the song into the medium’s head to let me know he was there. I know singing to my cats is quirky, but I thoroughly enjoy it.
After my husband died, I stayed off social media for years (as I explain in this excerpt). I only got back on Facebook because it’s a way to reach people who may need my book. I get a little overwhelmed with my responsibility on Facebook though. For example, I posted about the difficulties of Christmas after losing a spouse. As I recall, I had 40-50 comments, many from widows/widowers in deep pain and missing their spouses terribly. It reminded me why I wrote my book; I want to help those people. At the same time, I was overwhelmed and didn’t know if I should respond to every comment. I wanted them to know I saw them; I saw their pain. Most didn’t know me though. Would they care if I responded? Also, I rarely go on Facebook and don’t want to look at it frequently. So if I responded, would they feel hurt the next time they reach out, and I don’t respond for days or weeks? Experts say authors should post daily, but I struggle with even posting weekly. I want to reach people grieving, but my whole life isn’t about grief. So what do I post? And how do I help people—how do I see them—while maintaining my boundaries? That’s what I’m trying to figure out.
When I ponder a champion’s mindset, I think about the riders in the Tour de France, which is taking place now. It’s a 3-week bike race covering over 2,100 miles. It involves grueling mountain stages, including a summit finish with a 22% grade. If the riders get tired, they can’t stop. If they don’t finish a stage (a day of racing) or start a stage, they’re out of the race. They train hard in the off-season, and they ride their bikes in the cold winter. But to me, what demonstrates a champion mindset even more is their willingness to suffer and not give up. Bike crashes during the race happen frequently. I’ve seen guys slide across the road, get serious road rash, and remount their bikes to finish the stage. Last year, a rider flipped over a wall while descending rapidly down a mountain. I held my breath until he climbed back over the wall and remounted his bike. This year, a favorite to win the race crashed on Day 1 and finished the stage with blood streaming down his face. These are champions—whether they win the Tour or come in last place! In my book, I discuss the Tour de France and how I continue to watch it as a way to stay connected to my husband.
Since my husband's passing, I've disliked the 4th of July. Most of my widowed friends also dislike the day. This is a day to be with loved ones. It's a happy, celebratory day with fireworks, BBQs, games, and fun. But with a loss, it can be a day of torment. I included the 4th of July in my book so that people who may be miserable today know they're normal, and they aren't alone.
Working Title: Feeling Left Behind: Permission to Grieve
This Book Is In Development
The grief that accompanies the loss of a loved one is crippling. In Feeling Left Behind, author Kim Murdock relates and empathizes with that pain because she’s been there. She knows what it feels like to be woefully blindsided by music or at the grocery store, to reconsider the future alone, and to connect with a person who is no longer alive. You will relate to each of her chapters as she describes: ● The crushing desire to freeze time and isolate yourself ● The unstable phase of “firsts” ● The anger and sadness at seeing other couples ● The loss of self, empathy, and tolerance ● The heartbreaking sadness of getting rid of their belongings ● And so much more This is not a step-by-step guide on how to grieve. Kim outlines every detail of her experience as well as the experiences of her widow/widower friends to show you that you are not alone. You are normal. And you deserve as much time as possible to figure out how to survive in your own way.
The pain that comes from losing a spouse can often feel unbearable. What helped me was interacting with other widows and widowers. These interactions gave me a break from my pain and helped me feel normal; I felt that others understood me and my grief. I wrote this book to give other widows and widowers a way to connect and to not feel so alone. I want them to know their emotions and thoughts are normal, especially because society and often friends and family try to tell grieving people that their feelings are wrong. By sharing my story and journey, I hope to validate their feelings and experiences.
A challenge in writing this book was finding the language to accurately express the emotions I felt after losing my spouse. Are there any words that can truly capture the emotions? This chapter illustrates how sometimes I just had to say the feelings were "indescribable."
For me, summer means hiking. I enjoy hiking more than pretty much any other activity. In my book, I have a chapter at the end called What Has Helped Me. In it, I list activities or actions that have helped me deal with the loss of my husband. One activity I include is spending time in nature and hiking. This summer, I will once again head to the mountains whenever I can to hike and get away from it all. I plan to launch my book this summer, so I may be busy. But, I'll be sure to hike as much as I can.
I'm new to the publishing world. I wrote my book with the goal of supporting widows and widowers who are grieving the loss of their partners. I'm now trying to navigate the publishing world, which is a whole different mindset. Building a platform, figuring out how to distribute the book, and figuring out how to sell it makes me feel like I've gotten so far away from the original intent of the book. It's a different mindset. I keep having to remind myself why I did this in the first place—to help grieving people.
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