Mom no longer speaks. She no longer watches television, gets out of bed or eats solid food. I have not heard her voice in months. She no longer wakes easily. I have to shake her to wake her. As a college graduate who served in the armed forces during World War II and as a NYC Police Officer for 20 years…
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Upon returning to work following the sudden death of my 32-year-old husband, I ran into a co-worker in the hallway. During our first interaction since the untimely death, I was expecting an awkward hug (personal versus professional interaction) and the usual comments – “Sorry for your loss;” “We will all miss Rod;” “Is there anything I can do to help.” Instead, I was dumbfounded when the first words he shared were, “I know exactly what you are going through as I recently lost my dog.” So my reaction was that I immediately applied the breaks to my vocal chords; kept both my arms secured to the side of my body; and most importantly kept the frozen poker look on my face. My reaction internally was, “You have got to be kidding me — my husband Rod is now compared to a dog whose life span is no longer than 18 years?” In my emotional state of widowhood, how could one compare my husband, the father of my child, my soul mate, and my future to an animal? Fast forward a few years and now I have a different outlook on what my co-worker was suggesting. Could he have approached it differently? Perhaps. Was he right? Probably. In my many years of facilitating widow support groups, I am constantly reminded that no two people grieve alike and each grief journey is different based on the individual, the type of loss, life’s challenges, support systems, relationship to the loss and so much more. How could a reaction to loss and subsequent grieving be summarized in only one way when we are all so different? When my mother passed away leaving behind 5 daughters, an outsider would have never believed we shared the same DNA. Our reactions spanned across a huge spectrum. While we all shared the loss of a parent, a few of us wanted to share mom stories, while others thought laughing was rude. Some of us lived far away and did not feel the daily impact of the loss while others did. Some of our children would never meet grandma and learn first hand of who she was. Now let’s take pets into consideration. Society has a tendency to belittle or devalue the emotional devastation of a pet loss. While the loss is personal, there is no public memorial service, no bereavement leave benefit from work, no designated period of time for mourning which leaves the mourner isolated and silent. One of my summer guilty pleasures is to watch America’s Got Talent. Watching the auditions recently of individuals and their pet captures only a portion of the relationship of flesh and fur. For some people, their relationship with their pets is no different than our relationship with another person. So why wouldn’t the pain and suffering from losing a pet be any different than a human loss? Let’s try to imagine the emotions of someone who has lost a pet –- what if their pet met them at the front
You may have heard the phrase Pre Nuptial Agreement in famous celebrity divorces, like the case of Tiger Woods & Elin Nordegren for example. Maybe you’ve thought that these were exclusively a celebrity clause, and not available to Joe Public. This couldn’t be further from the truth, and many couples marrying are now opting to draw up Pre Nuptial Agreements…
A little over twenty years ago, my life changed dramatically. I lost my husband, my father, and my mother in less than seven years. I didn’t know it at the time, but I had entered a very intense school. The lessons were the hardest I’ve ever had to work through. Many times I thought I was lost. I wasn’t lost, but that’s how I felt. I was really struggling. I wanted to go back to how it was, but we can’t go back. We have to learn to accept what we cannot change. Acceptance allows us to use our pain as a means of growth. I had no idea at the time that so much pain could be so rich with promise, but it is. One thing that helped was my belief that all things come bearing a gift. This was a principle I had gleaned from my many years as a Unity student, and I clung to it tenaciously. The necessity of finding that gift was what got me out of bed in the morning. I had to know why this had happened. There had to be a reason. There had to be a purpose. Since I didn’t know what else to do, I started asking, “What do you want me to do now, Lord?” which led to “How can I help? How can I serve?” I didn’t know it then, but that is exactly what we’re supposed to do when we don’t know how to proceed. About a year after my husband died, I found out about Dr. Deepak Chopra, and an entirely new path opened up before me. They say when the student is ready, the teacher appears. Well, the teacher had definitely appeared. So without my realizing it, I’d been set on a path which not only would help me heal, it would answer my questions about how I could help and how I could serve. One of the things I’ve learned is that you have to let go of how you think things should be so you can be open to God’s plan for you. Learning to let go was a really big lesson for me. You see, I always thought I was in control of my life! Actually, we’re never in control. I just didn’t know that then. Always there is a higher wisdom at work in our lives, and it knows where we need to go, what we need to do, and how to get us there. Eventually you begin to understand that everything is exactly the way it should be at that particular moment. True, you may be hurting like crazy – emotionally, physically or some other way, but at that particular moment, this is exactly the way things need to be so you can learn what you need to learn, so you can grow in the way you need to grow. Needless to say, it helps enormously if we can find our spiritual anchor. For me, that anchor was meditation. Why?
One cold November morning I woke up to find my seemingly healthy fifty-six-year-old husband dead. Sid had suffered a massive heart attack in his sleep. Devastation, shock and the worst pain I had ever felt in my life followed that awful fall morning. For months I mostly just hid in my house and cried. As the numbness slowly wore off, I did what I had always done when things seemed hopeless. I wrote about my feelings. Obviously I had never been as depressed as I was after I lost my husband. Still, I was drawn to trying to ease my pain through thoughts and words from deep in my heart. I began journaling about my sadness. I was part of a wonderful grief group at the time. Weeks after writing my first entry, I shared what I was doing with other members and they were anxious to read my story. Most of us had read numerous grief books that we didn’t find very helpful. We all were struggling with various issues that we didn’t see covered in so many other books about healing. I started to really listen to members of my support group so that I could add individual stories about battles with the enemy we all called grief. We shared a tragic bond, yet we had unique journeys as we traveled down the road to recovery. After several months I shared my manuscript and the response from my grief group was overwhelming. Using all of our experiences, I covered topics many authors had not like safeguarding, skin hunger and happiness guilt. It took a long time before I emotionally could go beyond my grief group. About a year after Sid died, I realized I had a book full of heart wrenching confessions, concerns and even some humor. If members of my grief group found my words helpful, would others in the midst of deep grief feel comforted too? I will never forget what my grief counselor told me: “Don’t ever stop trying to find a way to get something positive out of your negative experience.” She encouraged me to reach out to others with my unpublished work and was also instrumental in getting an excerpt printed in a local hospice newsletter. A friend who had a small publishing company had been very supportive after Sid died. I finally got the courage to tell her about my book. With her help and a lot of editing and rewriting, Crossing the Minefield was finally published several years after Sid’s death. Now the book is part of bereavement programs and grief libraries in forty-three states, including the MD Anderson Cancer Center Patient and Family Library. It was also recently chosen as a monthly selection for the Grief Book Club of the Hospice of Frederick County, Maryland. I am not an expert on grief. And many people have suffered through tragedies much worse than mine. But the one thing I have learned is that my counselor was right–when you are dealing with
It takes a lot of love to put your own life on hold to care for a loved one who cannot look after themselves. Most carers who take on this role do so because they wouldn’t want it any other way. You are probably one of those people. Yet, like so many others in your situation, do you find that while you are busy caring for others, no one seems to be caring for you and your needs? Whether you are caring for someone with a disability, a physical or mental health challenge, an elderly relative, or you’re a foster carer looking after stressed children, your role is often unpaid and undervalued. You probably haven’t attained a Masters in Public Health before having to take on this role, and you could be struggling but unable to let anyone know. Carers are the foundation of many of the services offered to the frail and needy in our society, and most of the success of programs to care for people outside of institutions falls on the carer’s shoulders. Increased Awareness of a Carer’s Self Sacrifice Throughout the world, there is an increasing awareness that carers do have needs that must be met and many countries are hosting focus weeks to highlight the important role that you, as a carer, play in our communities. Support groups are emerging in many cities that provide the opportunity for carers to meet and share their unique experiences and to find help and support from others who can empathize with them in their situation. As a carer, if you can find one of these groups, you will find emotional support and information about any benefits that may be available to you, as well as advice about changing legislation that may assist you financially or emotionally. Self Help Ideas Despite all the help available, you are probably aware that most of the support you receive will come from your own family and you will need to self-care in order to maintain your own health and emotional well-being. Here are a few of the suggested self-care options for carers: Don’t feel guilty if you need to leave your loved one to spend some time on YOU. Everyone should spend a short period each day saying “no” to others and “yes” to themselves. Take time to indulge in something you enjoy doing and you will return refreshed and ready for the demands of your caring role. Ensure you take care of yourself physically, emotionally, and spiritually. Caring involves emptying your emotional tank, and this leaves you vulnerable to reduced immunity and other problems. Eating well, taking time to focus on your friends or religious faith, and even pursuing a public health degree online can all help you keep the situation in perspective and maintain your own health and well-being. Don’t feel guilty about saying yes to offers of help. Being a carer does not make you a superhero. We all need help and support, so when it’s offered, accept it