Stories from the Road

Stories from the Road 2017-08-09T19:41:51+00:00

Thank you to the women and men who had the courage and conviction to share their stories of loss and transformation. The Grief Project is here to offer companionship, comfort and hope to those who walk the widowed road. By sharing their stories, widowed people pay it forward to help others traverse the desolate and lonely road toward hope and healing.

Watch Vidoes Here

Thank you from the bottom of our hearts.

Click on title to read story

wisdom270pxMy name: Cindy Stensland

Dear friends that I have not met yet, My name is Cindy and I just turned 57. On August 15th 2015, my husband Rich (58) and myself and Richs parents Bob (87) and Mary (85) were in our car (a big 2003 Cadillac Deville) traveling on that Saturday morning to a family reunion of my father-in-laws down in Story City Iowa. We had stopped at a way side rest 30 minutes north of Story City and we had merged back on the interstate 35. I was driving and Bob was in the passenger seat. Rich was behind me and Mary was behind Bob. A 34 year old woman was in a toyota 4 runner with 2 children ages 6 and 8 fighting over a cell phone. She tried to down load an app to entertain them. She was behind us and was distracted. She ran into the back of our car in the right lane. She admitted to g0ing 76 miles per hour. Both cars went in the ditch. It was 10:44 AM, the sun was shining and the road was flat. All 4 of up were knocked unconscious. Rich died instantly, Mary had a broken shoulder, ribs and hip. Mary was air lifted to Mason City Iowa and she died 49 hours later. I had a concussion and required 20 staples in my head and had bruised and later inflammed ribs that took almost 2 months to heal. Bob had some sore ribs but was otherwise unharmed. The passengers in th 34 year olds car were unharmed. My husband and his mother are now in heaven, of that I am positive. I am trying to put my life back together and am sad and lonely. I miss Rich so much I physically ache. We had a wonderful marriage of 36 years. I loved him with all my heart. I am feeling the need to reach out to other people and am spending a lot of time in my bible and praying. I know that God is still good and in control and that I will see my beloved again. I just need comfort from people who have walked in my shoes.

940805_10152143010479553_2129249339_nMy name: Carla S. Mannes, MSW, CBS…As a grief & loss counselor, coach and educator, I have come to understand the profound misconceptions of loss. As a formal funeral director, I specialized in loss that is present with death. I grew increasingly troubled to work in an industry that profited from death, yet offered little if any support for grieving families. The funeral home I worked in did not offer any after support or care.  I decided to return to school in 2009 to become an expert in grief, loss and healing.  As the summer of 2010 was coming to a close, I finally had to address some long term health issues that had plagued me. It was during my treatment a tumor was found on my pancreas. After addition testing I was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. I can’t even express the fear and overwhelming dread that filled my mind and the sadness that filled my heart. That Saturday afternoon, I began the process of thinking about my death.I tried to keep my secret, not to burden my children or family, but realized every minute I kept the secret, was a minute of love and support I lost. Time became both my enemy and friend.  It took me weeks to be able to look in the mirror and say, “I have cancer”. I knew pancreatic cancer was fast moving, deadly and my time could be short. I had taken care of many wonderful people in my community that did not survive. It was this revelation that provided an opportunity for me to evaluate my life, history of loss and unresolved issues of grief. While I prepared for surgery, my head was wrapped around the losses my death would bring, not thinking about my children, family or friends. As a single parent, I couldn’t imagine the loss of not being present for my children. I could not comprehend living without their unconditional love, daily hugs, big kisses and the infinite joy they brought me.  How could I miss their future marriages, grandchildren, milestones, laughter and memories?   It wasn’t the fear of death that I thought about.. It was the immeasurable losses.My journey back to restored health has been filled with good days, hard days, tears, pain and a renewed sense of profound gratitude for life, loss and suffering.  In every sense I have become a different (changed) person.  I can’t help but think of the dear families I had the opportunity to serve when death called. At the time I wasn’t aware of the other significant losses and issues of unresolved grief in their lives. The cemetery became a hallowed ground for people trying to express what they couldn’t say in life. Loss is a universal experience. Some will lose trust, others will lose their innocence, families will lose beloved pets, relationships end, families are broken. In reality these compounded losses are equally as painful and in many cases more complicated by addictions with drugs, alcohol, self-medicating, eating disorders, food and sex. It’s time to acknowledge the damage caused by compounded losses and unresolved grief throughout a lifetime. Death is not the only loss, but it is the final loss.Today, I have a master’s degree in social work and gently guide people through their darkness (loss) helping them acknowledge, resolve and heal their grief.  I believe loss is a universal experience and grief is the profoundly personal expression of your journey.
100_2141My name: Diane Dettmann

Alone for the first time in my life, I struggled to figure out who I was— a question most people asked as teenagers. The sudden death of my fifty-four year old husband brought our twenty-eight year marriage to an unexpected end. Living at home during my college years to save money and marrying my husband with never living alone left me clueless on how to survive on my own. Coupled with a grief ridden heart, trying to face my life alone as a widow pushed me into a process of figuring out where I was headed in life. Sometimes I even wondered if I wanted to keep going.

When my husband and I struggled with infertility early in our marriage in the 1970s, we considered the limited options. We thought about adoption, but decided to pursue other medical possibilities that could lead to a child of our own. Eventually, after almost losing John during a minor infertility surgery, we gave up and placed the decision in God’s hands.

Years passed by with no babies appearing, yet John and I grew even closer as a couple. We enjoyed traveling and spending our time together. Eventually, we accepted that we weren’t meant to have children and would grow old together. We seldom gave much thought of what would happen to either one of us if we were left alone. I guess we thought we’d live forever.

After John’s death, I questioned our decision not to adopt children. Hindsight is a great teacher too bad we can’t rewind the clock of life. Alone, I pushed through the loneliness and loss with varying degrees of success. I took on a new job two weeks after the funeral. My literacy coach position required me to travel around the country to training sessions with my new colleagues, then return to our school and train teachers. The new job provided many new opportunities and at the same time added stress to an already overwhelming grief process.

For six years, I took on the challenges of single life. I tackled home improvement projects, traveled alone, discovered new interests and at the age of fifty-six even tried dating. I found dating in my mid-fifties a whole different experience than when I was in my twenties. Not sure where I was headed, just I kept going. In the process, I realized grief sucks and that it takes a lot of time and energy. I also discovered the healing value of solitude and the resiliency of the human spirit.

As painful and hard as the grief journey is, the positive energy and time invested eventually reveal a new path and new you. People may tell you to “move on” or “get over it” but be brave enough to invest your energy in the challenges and struggles the grief journey presents, get support from others and take the time to find yourself again. Keep going, a bright sunrise and new direction is waiting for you.

PC290693My name: Diane Dettmann


Living in the midwest, Minnesota to be exact, this winter is proving to be a relentless season of snow, wind and frigid temperatures. Valentine’s Day has passed and today is the first day of spring, but the watching the snowdrift outside I’d never believe it. This bitter-sweet season presents its challenges for even a Minnesotan born and raised here. As much as I love the gentle flakes of snow, the crisp winter air and the aroma of a fire burning in the fireplace, I still find myself longing for the long, sunny days of summer. The inevitable snowstorms and ice-covered roads present challenges every year. I accept it, it’s part of life here in Minnesota. Last year we lucked out with very little snow to shovel and clear roads for most of the season. As this winter continues to roar it’s ugly head, it reminds me of the first winter after my fifty-four year old husband, John, died in 2000. His sudden death threw me into a whirlwind of anxiety and lonliness. Alone, I spent many hours walking behind our Murray snowblower blowing the drifts of snow out of the driveway after a long day at work and a stressful trip home on ice covered roads. Sobbing under the stars flickering in the night sky, I pleaded with God to let me have just a day, an hour or another minute with John. After muscling the snowblower back into the garage, I headed into the warm house. No hug, no kiss not even a “Hi, Sweetheart” greeted me, just silence. Without my husband or any adult children to help, that winter filled with snow and loss was the most grueling winter of my life. A dozen winters have come and gone since my last moments with John. I still think of him everyday and will for the rest of my life. The grief has soften over the years, but the loss will be with me forever. In hindsight, that first brutal winter alone and my daily struggle with grief taught me many things about myself and discovering meaning in life again:

  • Winter will come again like grief, you have to plow through it.
  • Blowing snow in the dark has its advantages, the stars are beautiful. In the darkness of grief keep your eyes open to those occasional sparkles of hope.
  • Christmas is only one day. It’s the other 364 days that require your energy.
  • Shoveling snow for several hours gives you time to think. Focus on what you’ve accomplished, celebrate and keep going.
  • Reconnect with your childhood pleasures. Building snowmen and making snowangels are a great way to relax and enjoy the fresh air.

If you’re lucky and live in a warm climate, take a walk, ride your bike, have coffee with a friend at an outdoor cafe or sit in the sunshine with a good book. Nurture yourself in these difficult days of loss. Better days are ahead, so keep plowing through! Sending my heartfelt understanding and support to all of you.

Read more about my journey as a widow in my memoir, Twenty-Eight Snow Angels: A Widow’s Story of Love, Loss and Renewal. Information at htt:// Available at Barnes&Noble and on Amazon in Kindle and Paperback Paperback

I am the living half of a great loveMy name: Brandi Reyna – Butler (Greggies Widow)

March 9, 2010 was the day that my life changed forever, the day that our life together changed. It started out like every other day. Greg and I were putting the final touches on our wedding which was set for May 29, 2010; we were planning to spend the rest of our life together as we felt the Lord wanted for us. That morning on his way to work, Greg was involved in a car accident when he was exiting the freeway and was blinded by the sun and rear ended a flatbed 18 wheeler. Greg never made it. He never had a chance. I have lived with the “what ifs” and all the “wishes” that one could have when they hear their loved one is involved in an accident, not only do I wish that I was there, because I didn’t want him to die alone; I also find hope in wishing that he did not suffer and feel pain.

Greg and I had our own fairytale romance, full of the ups and downs that fairytales are made of. My hope is that this article will reflect the love we share and the guidance the Lord had in our relationship.

September 20, 2009 is a day that will forever be engrained into my mind. I had recently moved back to the area to attend seminary and work on my Master’s degree in Counseling, and Greg was working for a local company as a field engineer. Within my first month there I had found the perfect church. I had prayed and prayed and from the moment I sat in the church service, I just knew that this was where the Lord wanted me to be. Sunday September 20th we met for the first time. We both attended the young adult’s bible study group at our church. Greg had been attending for years and this was my first time. If I had not listened to the spirit telling me to go to this specific church and to be involved in this bible study group, Greg and I would never have met!

Initially having any form of interaction that resembled anything close to a conversation was difficult, as Greg was shy with me and getting him to talk was like pulling teeth! I’ll never forget what he was wearing, it was a cooler and windy evening so Greg had on his leather jacket and Dallas Cowboys cap on. As usual with a large size Dr. Pepper in tow. Greg was addicted to Dr. Pepper. The kid was in desperate need of some type of 12-step program to get him off of Dr. Pepper. He drank so much Dr. Pepper, I’m surprised that wasn’t flowing through his veins instead of blood!

For the rest of September through October Greg and I saw each other at bible study group almost every week and talked here and there. In early October Greg brought his dog into the vet clinic that I worked at for an annual checkup. Greg did not remember that I worked there and I did not know that his dog was a patient there. Greg tended not to remember names of places, etc. so he didn’t put two and two together, until that day. I was embarrassed, I looked awful. In scrubs, no make up, hair in a ponytail, not feeling well for several days and stressed from work/ school, etc. I remember thinking, “Greg just had to come in that day of all days.” Why couldn’t he have made the appointment for another day? This was the first time we had run into each other outside of bible study. Greg was very shy and it was a very awkward conversation.

Weeks later Greg would tell me that this was when he knew he was meant to be with me. Seriously? Greg then spent the next month and a half asking God for direction and searching for Gods will and discernment for our friendship and eventual relationship. He asked our mutual friends and his family for their guidance and prayers. We continued seeing each other only in bible study and talking to each other online till the second week in November. That’s when my Greggie made his move …

10 us funny!My name: Brandi Reyna – Butler (Greggies Widow)

One evening when we were chatting we were discussing movies. Movies end up playing a large role in our life together. Once we became a couple, we watched  a movie almost every evening. I told Greg that I never seem to have time nor the extra money to go to movies and Greggie said he has time just no one to go with. Smooth right? So we planned for that weekend to go to see The Blindside, just as friends.  The following two days I was invited to various Thanksgiving social events with some of our mutual friends and I asked them if it was ok of I brought Greg. They loved it! Everybody loved my Greggie. Although at this moment in time, he was not “mine” yet. While we were just friends as we attended the movies and social functions, our friends were already putting us together as a couple. No pressure right? While Greg and I were taking time to pray and seek the Lord’s guidance for our relationship, our friends were already seeing what was right before their eyes. Two people in love with Jesus and with each other. It was at one of these Thanksgiving get together, that a friend of ours took the first picture of us.

Greg and I continued to pray about our friendship and sought out the Lords guidance for us. Neither of us wanted to just be in an relationship, let alone one that didn’t have the Lord’s blessing.

Two weeks later, on November 28th, 2009, Greg and I went to a park out by my father’s house. One thing we shared was our love for nature, and our love for the outdoors. We often went to our spot at a park close to where our houses were, it was peaceful and relaxing place to be. I told Greg that I would never let him live this day down. He had the perfect romantic opportunity to finally tell me what he thought the Lord had told him about us and to ask me to be his girlfriend. I remember sitting there at the park by the lake. It was cold outside and I was freezing. Greg having spent years in OK and AK was not the slightest bit cold and laughed at how I was shivering. But there we sat underneath the stars, watching the ducks swim by in the water, who were also probably freezing as well. Greg had the perfect opportunity and he blew it. He would tell me later, how he knew he blew it and how he got shy. I mean what was I going to do? Say no? Come on. He said that he knew he missed it and I told him I would never let him live it down and I do not intend to!

The next evening  I met Greg at his house and we went to the park. Greg was so excited when I told him that I was on my way back home to my place in Fort Worth after spending the day caring for my father, who was recovering from a recent surgery. I remember getting Greg’s text just like it was yesterday. It was simple yet exuded so much happiness to see me. November 29th Greg took me to what became known as our spot and told me how he felt the Lord has brought us together for a reason and has blessed our relationship and Greg asked me to be his girlfriend and of course I was shivering and freezing from it being cold outside and of course I said yes.

Over the next few months our love for each other and our love for Christ as a couple would continue to grow. We would teach each other many things over these months and we would help each other to become the person God has created us to be.

The day after Greg’s birthday, January 17, 2010, Greg proposed to me at our spot, underneath the stars. It was after bible study and I remember our bible study leaders asking us on Facebook, “did this happen after bible study????” Greg asked me to put on a beautiful dress that we had bought for this specific occasion a few weeks earlier, and after bible study, he drove us out to our spot. I asked him where we were going, because he had told me previously that he would ask me a few times to wear this dress before he actually proposed, so I didn’t think he was going to do it this night. Greg told me just wait my love, you will see and he put on a cd of some of our songs. It was so incredibly cute and romantic …

Behind Greg (cropped) editedMy name: Brandi Reyna – Butler (Greggies Widow)

We went to a place at our spot and I remember we had a long walk from the car to get there, again it was cold, and here I was walking after changing into some pretty red heels that were ironically saved just for this occasion after having them for years and never wearing them. My sister in law was supposed to be there taking pictures of all of this, because I had hinted previously that I always thought that was romantic. But she showed up late so we took pictures after, which was just as romantic and the pictures turned out so lovely. I remember Greg asking me to marry him and he was so creative and romantic and I loved how he lifted me up and spun me around. I remember how happy we were and so much in love. At this time I gave Greg our promise ring to wear until we were married. At first I think I might have hurt his feelings, but after explaining to him why I wanted him to have it, he understood that it wasn’t because I didn’t want it anymore, but I was giving it to him as a reflection of my love for Greg and my commitment to him and to us; just as our engagement ring is a reflection of his love for me and his commitment to us. Greg proudly wore that ring everyday till the day we buried him. I almost buried the ring with him, because it was Gregs ring. But after talking it through with Greg’s dad, I decided to keep it because as his dad said, “it is too important and means too much”.

I remember  sitting in Greg’s car after he proposed and we were done with taking pictures and I had my list of people to call to share our good news with. Greg thought it was so cute. I had a list of people whom I really wanted to find out through a phone call or text (since it was late at night), instead of finding out via Facebook. I felt some people in our lives deserved more than a Facebook status. When we got back to Gregs parent’s house I remember his mom asking if it’s official now. Was I the only one that DIDN’T KNOW? In fact I laughed and asked Greg where did he hide the ring and his mom said how he was frantic because he was afraid I would find it before he had the chance to ask me! Surprisingly Greg had our ring for almost 4 days before he finally asked me.

Greg and I spent the next two months planning our wedding, picking out dresses, tuxes, invitations, flowers, decorations, showers, bridal pictures, honeymoon, etc. We spent this time, falling more in love with each other and growing in our relationship with Christ. We were planning our future together for after we got married. Where we would live, where I would be going to graduate school since the seminary decided to change the program I was enrolled in. We were living life and planning our life together. We had our difficulties; communication was a large issue initially, since Greg was shy. Problems with my in laws seems to always have been an issue.  But we prayed and worked through our difficulties. Greg always the optimist believed that with time everything would work out and his family would love and accept me. I always looked forward to the Sunday dinners with his large family all around the table, laughing and sharing life together.

One thing that Greg and I did on a monthly basis was to celebrate us on our “monthly anniversary”. Greg ever the romantic would always try to make these dates special for me. We would put life aside and just celebrate us by going to our favorite restaurant and seeing a movie after. I remember it was so romantic and we would get all dressed up and laugh and have a good time together. Without the drama. I really miss those dates. February 28th, 2010 was the last time we celebrated our monthly anniversary. 9 days later Greg would be gone …

Sailor Kiss (cropped) editedMy name: Brandi Reyna – Butler (Greggies Widow)

March 7th is another day that is engrained into my memory, simply because I made a choice. A choice that has affected my loss and grief, the effects of this choice will be explained more in my article in the next issue of this newsletter. Since we got engaged, Greg and I joked around about just going off and getting married; but still keeping the wedding ceremony and reception for May 29th. Sunday March 7th Greg and I were working on our couple’s devotional together. At this time I do not recall what that week’s lesson was about but Greg just paused mid-sentence when he was reading the lesson out loud and said to me why don’t we just go get married tomorrow. We would stick to the plan of keeping the official ceremony and reception for May 29th, but just go get married now. Greg and I just really wanted to be married. I do not think Greg wanted anything so intensely in his life, other than to be married to me.

Instead of saying yes, like I really wanted to, I put others before us, before Greg and before myself. I do not blame anyone other than myself for that. I thought about it and took a deep breath, thinking we had 2 months to change my mind, just being naïve, never thinking Greg would be gone in less than 2 days; and I told Greg how I do not think that my mom could go through that again, since my brother and sister in law cancelled their entire wedding just a year prior and it devastated her. I know our plan was different but at the time, like I said I thought I had 2 months to discuss with her and talk with Greg. I didn’t think I had two days. I did not close the door on the issue, but I have learned that I will never put others first again. I denied Greg something that he really wanted, in order to save all of our parents from being upset or having their feelings hurt. To this day, this is something that I wish I could have done differently.

March 8th was an extremely difficult day for me. I was so emotional that day, granted I had so much going on in my life at the time I was working full time, doing an internship full time in women’s ministry, leading women’s bible study, planning a wedding and I am sure many other things that slip my mind at the moment; but in the midst of all of that, since losing Greg I felt like my spirit already knew what was going to happen at 7:09am the next morning. I was an emotional train wreck. Everything upset me that day, my mother in law upset me that day by her difficulty and unwillingness to give me the list of people she wanted us to invite to the wedding, my sister in laws were upsetting me by their lack of including me in things, work was upsetting me, not to mention that I had been sick off and on for months. Poor Greg must have felt like he was being pulled in a million directions, with all the women in his life emotional for one reason or another. Instead of stressing out, like most people would, Greg and I watched two of our favorite movies that night. Again thinking that I had all the time in the world, I turned down Harry Potter for probably the 100th time, instead opting to watch Ratatouille and Cars.

One of my last memories of Greg is one that I will always cherish because it shows his gentle heart and how loving he was. As I shared earlier, I was very upset and Greg cuddle me in his arms and talked softly to me and started singing to me the hymn “It Is Well With My Soul”. Then he told me as he had many times before, that he was here for me, to protect me and love me and guide me.  8 hours later, he was gone. Thinking back to this moment in time gives me hope and peace knowing that Greg’s spirit was at peace when he left this earth.

March 9th was the day that our relationship on earth together ended. One minute Greg was on his way to work, he took a different route to work that day. Later my father in law would tell me that Greg was going to pick up an extra check for a hazard pay from a recent job and that the reason why I wasn’t told about it was because he was saving it for us …

Kelly and Cams rehersal dinnerMy name: Brandi Reyna – Butler (Greggies Widow)

March 12th, Greg and I should have been on our way to my parent’s house in Houston, to finish up our wedding invitations and mailing them out. The last huge thing we had left to do. I am a planner and other than the invites, my bouquet and reception table centerpieces we could have gotten married that day. Instead of finishing planning our wedding, I was with the rest of our family burying the love of my life, my soul mate, my best friend, the man I planned to marry in 2 months and 20 days; the man who I planned to share the rest of my life and eternity in Heaven with.

What I first fell in love with about Greg was his heart. He loved others with his whole heart. He never met a stranger. His love for others was one of his greatest qualities and one of the things that I admired most about Greg. Greg not only believed in Christ, he put his beliefs into action. He took up his cross daily and followed Christ. He LIVED OUT the fruits of the spirit on a daily basis. Do not get me wrong, Greg was no saint by any means. He had his flaws, he had his struggles, he had his sins that he struggled with on a daily basis, but he by no means let his humanity keep him from sharing Christ with others.

Greggie and I did not have a lot of time together by worldly standards; but the love we shared will last a lifetime. I would not change our time together for anything. If I could go back and change it, I wouldn’t trade Greg for anything. Often people thought that our relationship was “moving too fast” in fact that was much of what caused the discord between Greg’s sisters and I. None of that kept us from following the path that we felt God had called us to.

In retrospect, if we had not met, became a couple, got engaged, would Greg have been the man God had created him to be? Would he have been able to accomplish in life what God had called him to? Greg and I were destined to be together and to love each other, regardless of the amount of time that we shared together on earth.

In the time that Greg and I shared with each other, we taught each other so much about faith, love and life. We taught each other about living how Christ wants us to live, about taking up our crosses daily and following Him, about living out the fruits of the spirit, about the struggles of life. We taught each other about trust, love and sacrificial love. How I love others today, is influenced by the love Greg and I shared and what I learned from him. It was often romantic watching Greg develop into a spiritual leader and how God used me to help mold Greg into the man that God needed him to be in order to take Greg home. It has always been my honor to be Greg’s girl.  In my heart, I feel as though I carry on Greg’s legacy. In my opinion his legacy was in how he loved Jesus, how he lived out the fruits of the spirit and` how he loved others.

Who could possibly have known that none of that would matter to society. No one, including myself could have known the effects of how not having that marriage license, not having that piece of paper, or second ring would affect how people viewed my loss or my grief; nor could anyone have known how the added secondary losses and how society views my loss would affect my journey.

Who would have known how my loss would be pushed aside and belittled, not only by society at large but also by Greg’s family and some of our friends as well. It has been 34 months since I lost my Greg and I look forward to sharing my journey as an Unwedded Widow with you.

*Brandi is a contributing writer to The Open To Hope Foundation, The and Journey Through Grief Newsletters.*

wisdom270pxMy name: Jennifer Swett

My wife Jennifer and I had been together four years at the time we got married. Our daughter Ruthie was three and half years. It was a sunny day in June 2007. It was a very happy day to celebrate with family and friends. I had never seen my wife look so beautiful as she did on that day. Two months later we found out we were going to have our second child, four and a half months later we found out my wife had stage four cancer. Life had changed both good and bad that year. So many things to be thankful for and so many things to be worried about all at one time. So many things go through my mind that its difficult to put it down in writing. Thoughts of shock, anger and how to survive. My wife took things so well and remained so strong for me and the girls and others. I feel as though i was in a fog, a lie, illusion of what I thought things should be. My wife fought the fight four years and eighteen days from the day of her diagnosis. She lost the fight Dec 11th, 2011.

We have two girls now 4 and 8 that she watches over from above. So many things i wish i could say to her still. I don’t even remember what i did say, except that i loved her and that it was ok to go. It is so hard to deal with now, but somehow i push my way through it all. I have no choice but to be a Father to our daughters and show them the love she had for them and to let them know each day how special they are to their Mother.


PA210566My name: Diane Dettmann…

When my loving husband, John, died suddenly on June 30, 2000, two days after his 54th birthday, his death devastated me. Pushed into solitude, I poured my grief and sadness into notebooks. I filled the pages with memories of our life together, my anger and my pain.

I understand your grief, and if I could take your sadness and pain away, I would. The daily ache of grief softens over time. Nurture your body and spirit. Gentle walks, tears, writing, naps and short visits with friends helps.

Autumn was John’s favorite season. I wrote this poem three months after the funeral. Through the seasons, I walked the widow path and found meaning in life again—trust that in time so will you—sending thoughts of comfort and support to all of you.

Autumn’s Glow

In autumn’s glow

My heart still waits for you.

Last night

Under the rays

Of the evening stars,

My soul cried for you.

The night’s glittered sky

Reflected your smile.

I called out

Your name

Into the darkness.

The words crawled from

My lips,

“I want to be with you.”

by Diane Dettmann

My memoir, Twenty-Eight Snow Angels: A Widow’s Story of Love, Loss and Renewal, is bringing hope and inspiration to other widows. Available on Amazon at:

CrazyCourageMy name: Samantha Light-Gallagher

September 2, 2010 was the day the United States Border Patrol knocked on my front door and said I’m sorry ma’am but your husband died.  My husband was killed in the line of duty by a drunk driver.  This was the day my children lost their father and the day I became a widow.

The day started out like any other day.  I woke up took my oldest son to school and my youngest to daycare.  I returned home and began my work day.  Fielding calls and ensuring my employees arrived to work safely.  It was nearly 9:30 am and I was waiting for my husband, Mike to call. He was working the night shift protecting our US borders.  He didn’t call, so I called him.  I heard his voicemail and was frustrated.  I thought he is working a long day again.  I decided that I would lecture him when he got home and I went back to focusing on my workday.

Time past and it was 11 am when I got the knock on my door.

After I heard the news of my husband’s death, memories started whipping through my mind.  I thought about all the memories we shared, our children and the previous night.

Since the day my husband was killed, my children and I have been through several stages of grief or emotional stress, or whatever anybody wants to call it.  There are times when things seem so normal, but there is always something missing.  Through all this grief, I found something that I want to share with the world.  I found crazy courage.  It wasn’t easy to find, but I did.

Crazy courage is doing what is right for me, doing what I have to when I was in an emotional state that can become self-defeating, when I lost the passion for life itself. Courage is when I stand up and brush the dirt off and face all the difficulty, uncertainty, and pain by overcoming the fear that has overtaken my rational mind.  When I add the crazy to the courage I am adding an intense enthusiasm that will show others that I have a mission to complete, even if that mission is to get out of bed.  It is when I ignore the voice that is telling me, you are not able to do it.  It is not letting those fears and the pain control me anymore.  It gives me the strength to surpass all of the weaknesses I may feel.  The state of vulnerability I may feel scares me, but when I learned how to eliminate that and replace it with courage I have control again.  Crazy courage is what it took to become myself again or some form of myself. It allows change to happen. It’s the courage to push past your pride, ask for help and accept the support people want to give you. Crazy courage allows me to tell myself the truth.  I would lie to myself and at times I would believe those lies. I cannot close my eyes in hopes that my truths will go away.  I listen to that crazy courage voice inside of me, the one that is telling me you can do it and ignore the voice that sometimes tells me I can’t.  I take some deep breaths, count to ten, close my eyes and listen to what my body and mind are saying.  At times, the crazy courage inside of me was soft whispers that are hard for me to hear, but if I sit long enough,  I will hear them. When I hear and feel the crazy courage, I pull it out and bring it to the surface.  I might wear it like a mask if I need to so I can get passed the first 30 seconds.  I got to a point when I no longer have to listen to the whispers and it is on the surface so I can face what scares me.

I say give it 30 seconds of crazy courage and you will be surprised by what you are able to accomplish. It takes a lot of crazy courage to face those things you don’t want to do, but you have to do them anyway.

This level of courage is obtainable by anyone and I used it.  It’s the courage that I used to get out of bed and face the world again.  It was the strength that I found inside of myself to do what was necessary to survive and to continue to be a mother to my children after my husband was killed.

There are still times when I feel something inside of me saying, I do not believe you are strong enough. But I am strong.  I just have to continue to believe in love…for life and for myself.  And use my own crazy courage.

Dettmann-6My name: Diane Dettmann

After the sudden death of my fifty-four year old husband, I spent six years alone, trying to figure out who I was without the love of my life. I took on a new job, traveled all over the country and explored new adventures. One summer I drove up to the North Shore of Lake Superior, a place I had loved since I was a child. My husband John and I had spent many vacations on the shore of the Big Lake in northern Minnesota. On my solo trip to the shore, I decided to take my first kayaking lesson. The following is an excerpt from my book, Twenty-Eight Snow Angels: A Widow’s Story of Love, Loss and Renewal (Outskirts Press).

Feeling like an astronaut in all my layers, I struggled to carry my end of the seventy-pound kayak to the edge of the water. With four kayaks lined up in a row, the instructor directed us to climb into our kayak and sit all the way back so he could adjust our rudder pedals. Great I have to use me feet too? Then he told us to grab the apron around our waist, pull it forward and fit it around the kayak opening.

“If you capsize you need to pull this loop to detach yourself. Then hang onto the kayak, no matter what. It’s your only floatation device except for your life jacket.”

Capsize? Tip over? I worried about finding the ring and getting trapped under the kayak. Our instructor launched his kayak into the clear frigid lake yelling, “Now remember your five strokes. Forward…” his voice faded into the vast blue water in front of us. I wondered, “What did he say? Were there FIVE strokes?”

Trembling I floated out onto the giant lake capable of throwing ten-foot waves during a November storm. Boulders resembling giant turtles appeared below the lake’s clear surface. We cruised along the calm water admiring the rocky shoreline speckled with tattered fish houses. Paddling harder I floated farther out into the open water and stroked through the gentle late morning swells. Our instructor glided along the smooth surface with ease as he pointed out landmarks and told us stories of the wreck of The Edmund Fitzgerald. With the sun sparkling on the lake’s serene surface I tried not to think about the huge waves that crashed over the ship’s rail and the twenty-nine men who died. My arms ached from the paddling and my feet continued to confuse left and right, but the lake’s beauty pushed me forward. If water symbolized emotions, I was gliding right through them.

Sitting alone at dinner I savored the excitement of my kayaking experience. My trip to Montana and the morning paddling around Lake Superior with three strangers assured me that I could live an independent life. Yet watching the gray haired couple sitting in the corner holding hands made me miss John more than ever. Sitting alone on the condo deck a peach hued moon glistened across the water as the “what ifs” and my husband’s smile filtered through my mind. I knew John wanted me to be happy and enjoy my life.

In the morning, sitting on a boulder by the lake, the aroma of morning fires filtered through the air while gulls swooped above and begged for scraps of bread from tourists perched on the rocks. Not wanting to leave, I hiked and climbed on the rocks along the shore as long as I could. Hoping to carry the tranquility and peace of the North Shore home with me, I inhaled the white-capped waves rolling over the lake and snapped photos of the giant boulders just below the water’s surface. At noon I said goodbye to Lake Superior, packed up the car and closed the condo door behind me.

light in tunnelMy name: Ellen Gerst

I wrote the following essay two-and-one-half years after the death of my first husband. Seventeen year have now passed, and I still remember the moment when i first started to see the light streaming into the dark, deep tunnel of grief in which I found myself. It is my hope by sharing this story that I can light the way for you to emerge from your tunnel of grief.

When my first husband committed suicide, I also died — maybe not physically, but emotionally and mentally. After two-and-one-half years, I still don’t have the answers that tell me why he felt he had to take such a drastic action. Oh, I can figure out some of them, but truly this was a permanent solution to a temporary problem.

Since his death, I have worked on and through my grief and have found a happiness I never thought would be mine again. Sometimes it is scary that so many good things have happened to me since he left. I suppose it comes down to how you look at life. Even though I did go through stressful times and obviously something terrible happened to me, I still feel positive about life. In fact, at times, I even feel lucky.

Almost immediately after his death I felt the most amazing outpouring of love and support from close friends, as well as from people to whom I hadn’t spoken in years. I found it astonishing that all these people took time away from their busy lives to help me. It truly made me believe in the goodness of humankind at a time when I did not have much hope about anything.

There are many people who do not know what to say to a mourner; they feel awkward, scared, and a gamut of other emotions. They also might feel guilty when they stop calling to see how you’re getting along. I don’t want them to feel that way. For me, it was enough that they were there when I really needed them. In truth, I still feel them around me — almost like a circle, only far in the background. If I ever do need them again, I know they will rush forward to catch me. This fact has made me more appreciative of my friends, and it has mademe a better friend and more empathetic person.

Anyway, life went on. My children came to accept their loss and, I believe, deal with it at their level. I know they will always feel the absence of their father, but it has not stopped them from being happy and successful. I think I must take some credit for this turn of events.

In the last few years, I have made my children the entire focus of my life by giving them my undivided attention. They feel very secure in my love and innately know that I will always be there to provide love and support. I feel blessed that I have a seventeen year old who still wants to talk to me — maybe not all about his emotions, but he tells me about the things he does, the friends he makes, and just ‘stuff’ in general.

I parent by example, and I also let my children clearly know the expectations I hold of them, which includes acting responsibly. They have not let me down yet! For example, my older son does not have a curfew, but my rule is that he has to let me know where he is and what time he’ll be home. Not once has he failed to do this, even though he complains about it quite often!

Along with attempting to illustrate on a daily basis how one can move gracefully through grief and find personal renewal, on a more practical level, I never expect more from them that I am willing to give. Consequently, I always provide a full itinerary of my whereabouts, how to reach me, and when I’ll be home. This also provides the security of knowing exactly what I’m doing and when I will return.

This new life I lead as a single parent is one that is completely different and includes many new friends and work-related successes. I am doing something I truly enjoy, and, even though it keeps me quite busy, I don’t feel any stress. That is because everything I do, I do because I want to and because it brings me pleasure. I know I am so very fortunate to be in this position.

I have seen first hand how short a time we are each given to walk the earth, and I will not allow the little annoyances in life to bother me again. I observe people taking life too seriously, and I just want to shake them and tell them to stop and smell the roses before it’s too late. Unfortunately, I think that’s a lesson you have to learn the hard way. And, although I wish I didn’t have to learn that lesson in so brutal a manner, I am glad to have that knowledge while I’m still young enough to take full advantage of it during the many years to come.


Ellen Gerst is a grief and relationship coach, author and workshop leader who uses both her personal experience as a young widow and her professional expertise to help clients and readers experience a change in perspective in order to move with grace from the darkness of loss to the light of renewal. “The Light at the End of the Tunnel” is the basis for her book, “Suddenly Single: How To Find Renewal After Loss.”

light in tunnelMy name: Ellen Gerst

At the time of my late husband’s death, we were very close to celebrating our twentieth wedding anniversary. We had been childhood sweethearts, meeting at a sleep-over camp when I was fifteen and he was seventeen. He was my one-and-only boyfriend and had known me over half my life, seeing me grow from an awkward teenager to a mature woman and mother. I thought I would spend my whole life with him — that we would grow old and gray together, walking down life’s path hand-in-hand. For the first couple of years after he died, it was impossible for me to even conjure up the thought of being with anyone else, and I was okay with that prospect.

As time passed, I became more comfortable in my new life. Matter of fact, never being single before, I enjoyed my new-found freedom while getting acquainted with the latest version of myself. However, at the top of my priority list still remained the desire to be fully there for my children. In fact, for the first two years of my widowhood, I rarely went out socially except with my sons. It even got to the point that they would urge me to go out and “play” with my own friends! However, that idea of looking for a new relationship remained a foreign concept to me. I figured that if I were to meet someone, he would have to trip and fall over me because I certainly wasn’t going to be looking for him! Well, as luck would have it, someone did trip!

My name was given to a gentleman about whom I knew nothing. I was a little apprehensive as this would be my first date in twenty-seven years! But he called, and we talked for a very long time and everything he said seemed to be the right thing. He did not know the circumstances of my husband’s death and, when I told him, he did not seem taken aback.

We met for dinner a few days later and again talked for hours. I felt so at ease with him and, as we continued to talk, I began to feel we had much in common. None of those red flags of dating of which I had heard were waving in my face. It’s funny because I told him that it never even entered my mind that there would be more than one date.

All you hear these days is that it is tough to meet someone of quality, so I assumed we would have dinner and that would be it. Wrong again! He was a true gentleman who let me talk about my emotions, remained cognizant of the feelings of my children, and allowed me to discover the “new single me” at my own pace. This seemed like an ideal first foray into the world of dating.

I guess the point of all this is to explain how I felt inside. I never realized that I was so dead emotionally. I had turned off all my desires and wants because I just assumed that I would never find anyone else. Who would want me and all my baggage? Would I ever feel desirable again? If I were to be truthful, it was just easier not to think about it and hide that part of my life in some dark corner.

As the interactions increased in my new-found relationship, a light started to shine in those dark recesses. I started to feel good about myself in regard to this social situation. I, along with my cheering committee of friends, felt pride in my ability to make these huge strides. In part, I believe my friends were glad because others always want to see mourners go on with their lives. But I felt good due to the fact that I actually felt SOMETHING! I began to believe that perhaps I didn’t die with my husband. It was only my emotions that went on hiatus.

In this new relationship, I wasn’t dazzled by going to nice places or receiving gifts – only by my partner’s honest emotions and his caring and understanding nature. It started out as a good friendship, which I think is the basis for any type of relationship anyway. He magnanimously told me that whatever our relationship turned out to be, he would always want to be my friend, which he remains to this day.

I know if I had met this man any earlier in my bereavement, I would not have recognized him or the possibility of a relationship. By the time of its inception, I neither felt guilty nor that I was cheating on my late husband. I had been seeing the light at the tunnel for a while, but I was about ready to climb out.

Please don’t misunderstand me. A romantic relationship is not the preeminent thing that can make a widow/er go on to lead a happy and productive life. It’s simply the fact that this encounter woke me up to the possibility of life and love again. It was the spark that ignited my buried passion for life and allowed me to believe that I could share it with a new partner. Now, all I had to do was find him!**

**Note: If you are interested to learn how I found my current husband, please read “Surfing For Love In All The Right Ways,” at This is excerpted from my book, Love After Loss: Writing The Rest of Your Story, which is available via my website at

Ellen Gerst is a grief and relationship coach, author and workshop leader who uses both her personal experience as a young widow and her professional expertise to help clients and readers experience a change in perspective in order to move with grace from the darkness of loss to the light of renewal.

wisdom270pxMy name: Diane Dettmann

Invisible Support

By Diane Dettmann

A story adapted from a chapter of my book, Twenty-Eight Snow Angels:

A Widow’s Story of Love, Loss and Renewal


After my loving husband John died, moving on one was one thing.

Speeding ahead into the unknown was something totally different.

Without any adult children to call for advice, my brother, my sister and

her family became my strongest supporters. They offered guidance as

we sat at the mortuary planning the funeral, and they wrapped their arms

around me at the graveside. They broke my daily loneliness with phone

calls, visits and love. The first few weeks of my new job, Mike called

every day at 5:30 a.m. to make sure I was awake. The sound of his voice

at the end of the phone helped soften the absence of John’s, “Good

morning, sweetheart.” Mike’s morning greeting and words of

encouragement motivated me to put my feet on the floor, get in the

shower and keep going.


Sometimes support appeared out of nowhere. To avoid my empty

house on a weekend, I drove to my sister’s and stayed over

night. During my visits, I hung around the gallery where she arranged

artwork and waited on customers. Wind chimes tinkled in the warm

summer breeze as customers swished into the shop. Peaceful mini-

fountains trickled in the background while soft music floated through

the air.


One day, while I sat on a soft cushioned chair reading a widow’s

self-help book, the eucalyptus candle scent floating through the gallery

triggered memories of trips with John to Carmel, the smell of kelp at

dawn and romantic sunset walks along the Pacific. The images pushed

tears down my cheeks. An old woman stopped in front of me and asked

what was wrong. I told her my husband had died. She leaned over and

hugged me, kissed me on the forehead and said, “Let God help you through

it, don’t resist.” I thanked the woman, but wanted to tell her God had not been

much help so far, but I’d keep praying.”


After Mary finished work, we browsed through the “Ragtime Clothing”

store across the street. When we walked into the shop, a woman young

enough to be my daughter greeted us with a friendly hello and invited us

to browse around. Mary suggested I look through the dresses and sport

coats to see if I could find something for my new job.


I flipped through the racks of used clothes, confused. Why was I

shopping here instead of at some up scale store at a mall with John?

Nothing made sense. My heart raced. Panic rippled through my body.

I wanted to run out of the store, but Mary appeared from behind a rack

with several hangers in her hand. “Try these on. The dressing room’s

back there in the corner.” The young woman followed us, pulled back the

dressing room curtain, and I hung the hangers on the hook.


“Let me know if you need any help. My name’s Paula. I’m the

owner.” I thanked her and pulled the curtain closed. Standing in the

dressing room, I peeled my clothes off and hung them on a hook. I

barely recognized the sad, scrawny shape looking back at me in the

mirror. After trying on all the dresses, I returned them to the racks. I

tried on a sport coat that Mary found. I was not sure if I liked the floral

pattern scattered across the dark background, but decided for the price

I could wear it with slacks to work. I set the sport coat on the counter and

dug my wallet out of my purse. “With tax that’ll be five dollars and thirty

cents. That jacket has lots of colors in it. You can wear it with skirts and



I handed Paula a ten-dollar bill, looked down at the floor and said, “My

husband died two weeks ago.” Paula walked out from behind the counter.

She wrapped her arm around me. “I’m so sorry. I totally understand the

pain you’re going through. My fiancé died a year and a half ago in a car



We held each other like old friends and sobbed. Before we left, Paula and

I exchanged phone numbers. In the months that followed, Paula and I

Supported each other with frequent phone calls. I looked forward to our

conversations about loss and how grief sucked. Paula understood; she was

like the daughter I never had.


Twenty-Eight Snow Angels available at:

Diane’s Website:

253251_2095362516736_1625521866_2076493_6849944_nMy name: JessTay

Why I love being a widow

It probably sounds morbid and crass
insensitive or uncouth to say,
but it is my story: “I love being a widow”.

I am lucky
I have found myself while still young
through primal and fundamental loss.
Loss of a husband at 25.

I do not like who I was before
before loss, before widow.
Turns out, Love isn’t enough
when mental illness is involved.

I was defined with negativity:
secrecy, isolation, guilt
short tempered, impatient, embarrassed
I missed the beauty
of what time we had left.

I “motivated” him with anger and intolerance.
Success and reprieve eluded him
the doctors were wrong,
nothing could bring back the boy I fell in love with
or the man he was trying to be.

Only substance offered moments of silence,
the last drops of a compressed can quieting the persistent chatter
that existed in the empty house.

Comfort wasn’t found in my arms,
the arms of his wife.
Only disapproval and hope for the future.

There was no future,
I wish I had loved
instead of trying to fix what couldn’t be.

After loss
I found myself.
No longer hiding
in the faults of others.
Bare and broken,
grieving and without purpose:
I chose to get back up

It was obvious that something was missing
something fundamental.
My life before had purpose,
but it was missing love and acceptance.

I cannot control the darkness in others
I try not to try.
To do what I can to accept and love
in the moment.
Moments are all that is left
when our loved ones are only memories.

Weakness makes us human
acceptance of weakness makes us humble,
Humility allows us to ask for help
Asking for and receiving help is the pure beauty in this world.

Why do I love being a widow?
These words that I have written,
they did not belong to me two years ago.
I lived in fear of the inevitable
I lost my chance to love.

Now I love, Now I accept
I accept fear,
I love the inevitable darkness

When you hide from the darkness,
the demons only grow.
Standing in line like angry travelers at customs.
They are waiting for you to acknowledge them
to stamp their passport and invite them in.

You leave them in line,
they grow:
angrier, harrier and far more foul smelling.
Tempers flare and they stomp their feet.

Only once you have invited them in
Brought them tea and cookies and asked
“what business do you have here?”
Then you are loving your demon,
showing it respect. Giving it validation.
It is always there for a reason.

Only then are you open,
open to the universe and open enough to let the demons pass through.
And leave you in peace.

I love my demons,
I love myself,
I love the raw beauty of widowhood
and the opportunity to continue to love and accept others during their rawest time.

IMG_0154My name: Heather

Share with me your sorrow, your darkest depths of your soul.  I will listen.  You have a story to tell, share it with me now and I will listen.  At this moment, I see a numbness in your soul and I want to sit with you, hold your hand and listen to your heart.  Let’s sit and have a cup of tea, look inside your heart and feel it all, lean into the pain; let it be as it needs to be.  There is no right or wrong way to grieve, let it exist, as it wants to be in your heart.  Many will tell you this thing or that, trying to offer up whatever comfort they feel might be useful.  Honestly, is it useful to you?  Or rather, is it for them, as they don’t want to share this experience, it could be contagious, or require them to look into their own hearts.  People are not inherently mean, they don’t intend any ill will when they tell you its good your departed loved one did not have to suffer, you are so young you will find another, you should be happy you won’t have to worry about anything financially for the rest of your life . . . and on and on.  You want to scream at them and say I am not lucky, I have not been financially taken care of, I am alone, have no career, am afraid, sad, in shock, can barely take a shower, eat, etc.  Yet you sit there, and you comfort them because you have been raised by parents and in a society to be a good girl, to mind your manners.  Yet you wonder deep in the recesses of your mind, what would happen if you got down on the floor and screamed and pounded your fists like your child did when they came to tell you your husband did not make it?  You wanted to do just that!  They would have probably locked you up if you had behaved in that fashion, and yet as you sat on the floor next to your child holding him, allowing him the gift of release, you wanted to go next and scream for your loss and all that you knew would be coming.  You didn’t behave that way, instead you sprinted alone to the bathroom and were violently ill over and over in the pure silence, a silence so stilling it hurt your ears.  Again, you wanted to run out of there, scream your sorrows, fall onto the floor wailing and pounding on it until someone held you with love and compassion.

They all try to tell you so many things, you don’t even hear them any more, you simply exist on air.   Someone puts food on the table in front of you, yet you can barely eat it.  You put on your clothes to go to the cemetery for your final good-bye on this cold, blustery November morning and your clothes almost fall to the ground, funny you think when did these get so big?   As they are about to lower the casket and the last of the services is finally over (there have been two services, one where you live, and one where he is from in another state far, far away from where you live) your child throws himself on the casket and cries his eyes out, sobbing for his father and you wish you could do the same.  You stand with your hand on his back patiently waiting for him to finish, however, someone whispers in your ear “you simply must get him to stop now”.  You wonder why should he stop, he is like a wounded animal and he needs to release these emotions.  Later, back at the church at the little luncheon the church ladies have put on, you spy him spinning on the floor in dance moves, boldly laughing and acting wild, and again you wish you could join him.  You cannot, for what would these good church ladies think of you, the woman who comes from the big city far away, they don’t know what your beliefs are, and you certainly don’t want to give them anything to talk about in this small town where your husband and his family were pillars of the community.  Your husband was the star of this town, the small town boy made good, who went off and received an Ivy League education, had a successful law practice, three sons and a big life.  No, you don’t want them to know that by now you have found out that this wonderful man did not leave an updated will to take care of you and your son, he left it all to his older, college educated, married children who have had no debt or financial responsibilities because he was still taking care of them!  What a demoralizing day that was, to be summoned into his office around the big table in the conference room for everyone to turn over their credit cards only to find you held 2 joint accounts and his older boys each held approximately 7 or 8 joint cards on which he was paying.    You want to scream, it is all a farce, you have no car in your name, no house in your name, nothing and you don’t even know where you might end up living with this young boy who is allowing his feelings to flow so freely.  Not you, you are not allowed to display these emotions.  You thank everyone for all they have done, you put on a smile, try to look nice in this small town, and behave like a lady.  You are so tired, you want to crawl into bed and never get up again.  In fact, you are doubly tired since you have recently recovered from having a craniotomy to remove a brain tumor.  You wonder how can this be your life?  You must, however, you have a child to care for and so you do just that and hold your head up high even though all you want to do is get down on the floor, kick and scream and pound your fists.

anni headstone06My name: Rain

On November 14th – the third anniversary of Tom’s death – I will be facilitating a Board of Directors’ special meeting for one of our clients. The majority of board members are elected officials and that was the ONLY day they were available in the month of November.

Soooooo – my business partner and I will be there and do our work. Last year, I would not have been able to show up and do anything on November 14 – no matter the client, no matter the situation – the cemetary and my bed were the hang-outs last year.

This grief journey is ike being dropped straight into mental illness. At times you believe you will never survive; at times you do not want to survive.

Yet, through all the pain – you do survive. For a long time, you wait for “it” to be over. One day you realize, “it” will never be over. “It” becomes a missing piece; a hole in your life; a hole in your heart; a longing in your soul.

Gradually, you climb from the dark pit. Up towards the light – slam down into darkness – up towards the light – slam down into darkness.  Finally, you pull yourself over the rim of that dismal hole of sorrow and desolation long enough to raise your head for a moment.   Over time, those moments become more frequent.  Then there comes a day, the first flash of acceptance – you awake to realize that you have taken a giant step into the light. “I am alive!”  That first realization is stunning. And then you take another baby step forward.

After all, it is the living that have momentum. That have dreams. Hopes. A future.

Forever, I will miss my husband. This week, I have moments that bring me to my knees. This year, I acknowledge, “I am alive.”

**From my blog November 2007

On January 5th 2009, at 15h00 my beautiful strong husband suffered a massive stroke, unexpectedly (he was active, ate well and was only 52 years old).  Exactly 12 hours later, at 03h00 on January 6th 2009, I watched him take his last breath, and tried to hold my own so that I could go with him.   I was 44, still in love with him and completely happy.  In the space of 12 hours I went from a happy, confident, secure and carefree childlike woman to … a terrified and broken shell of myself.  I couldn’t function, I was in severe shock and am amazed I didn’t lose my sanity … in fact, it feels miraculous that I am still alive, that the loss, shock, pain and grief did not actually kill me.  I assumed I would not survive losing him.  He was, and still very much is, my world … my compass, soulmate, North Star, my all.

But, I’m still standing.  It is now 3 years and 3 months since that day.  I have been floored by tsunamis of molten lead.  I have laid on my sofa for a week at a time, ignored my phone, doorbell and emails … just laid there, begging him to come get me, not washing or even brushing my teeth.  I’ve been to San Diego twice, Savannah once, Bucharest, Geneva, Singapore, Bulgaria twice, Sydney, Adelaide, Brisbane, Uluru.  And this slowly proved to me that I would not be able to find him, that he could never come home (not in his corporeal form anyway) … but it also proved to me that there is life out there for me and gave me much needed respite with old friends and newly found widowed friends, without whom I would not have had the confidence to deal with my grief on my terms and on my timeline.  I’ve lost my fear of flying.  I’ve lost my fear of everything because the worst has already happened.  Sometimes, my sick sense of humour has helped me, sometimes lots of tea and talking with my best friend has.

The shock of losing Cliff gave me Type II Diabetes (this is more common that you’d think) and that added to my struggle back to the light.  But I’m coming to grips slowly with that.  I initially didn’t care … in fact I was pleased as at the time I felt it proved how much I loved and missed him.  Really.

IMG_2879My name: Boo

In a couple of months I’m selling my marital home and moving to Spain with my dog.  I’m buying an old Farmhouse which has been beautifully yet sympathetically renovated.  It’s in between the beautiful pink, purple and black mountains that rise out of the desert … and the vast white sandy beaches of the coast … 5 minutes from an enchanting white-washed little village and 10 minutes from a lovely small town.  My husband’s daughter, her partner and soon to be 4 children will be joining me a couple of months after I’ve moved.

All my priorities have shifted.  I’ll have no debts, no mortgage and will have enough income from renting another property to enable me to retire at the age 48.  I’ll still work a few hours a week as a Virtual Assistant from home, but I’m not chasing or hunting down clients.  I’ll be happy with the business that finds me … I’m already day-dreaming about walks with Barney, swimming with Cliff’s grandson each morning before the rest of the house wakes up, making home-made pasta, having family movie night each Thursday, the arrival of a new baby in December, seeing my sister, nephew and niece and their families more often than I do here, reading, scrap-booking, making the home beautiful, shopping for fresh fruit, vegetables and fish daily (with a huge wicker basket over my shoulder), chatting to the old Spanish ladies at the local markets, watching my family (even if they are Cliff’s blood only – I love them with a passion beyond words) enjoy Spain.  I’m going to horse-ride again, take up learning the saxophone and might even write a book.

It’s an unwanted unplanned future.  But the miracle is this – I can now see a future.  It wasn’t possible before.  And you know what, it’s amazing and alien to smile again (a real wide grin that reaches my eyes for the first time since he died) and look forward to the future.  The pain remains the same … but it becomes part of you, you learn coping mechanisms.  The hardest lesson is to embrace the pain instead of fighting it.  Then thinking you have accepted his death – to find, time and time again you haven’t … it took me 3 years and a week.  Learning to be patient with yourself, knowing when you need to just rest and when you need to get tough with yourself.  How can you stop loving and missing that which was your life and world.  He is still my soul mate and I have found ways of taking him with me.  In my heart, my soul … my dreams, being surrounded by his legacy, his teachings and still listening to him.  Displaying toy soldiers from his childhood, his first swimming certificate.  His snooker table.  Not to mention I have the last of three fireworks which house his ashes and this will be launched when we are all settled there – so he will literally be all around us in one respect.  But there will be balance … this will be no mausoleum … simply happy memories coupled with my taste in interior design, not his.  There has to be a silver lining somewhere, right?

IMG_0116My name: Boo

f you are reading this as a new widow/er, please know that at the beginning all you have to do is this:



Sleep when you can

Eat when you can, whatever it is

Keep a pad and pen with you to write down everything because your mind cannot retain any information … you will even forget what you are saying or why you have walked into a room

Personalize the funeral service – ensure your wishes are met


Accept help, especially with bureaucracy and food


Ignore the stupid and insensitive things people say … they mean well, but are ill-equipped to advise unless they’ve walked in your shoes

Don’t make any major decisions for the first six months

Have a general health check after 3 – 6 months (to detect diabetes, heart problems, high blood pressure … grief plays havoc with your health)

Breath, breath

one step at a time, one breath at a time

… and repeat …

You are surrounded by such darkness now, but eventually there will be light, the size of a firebug, then a candle, then a flashlight and so on.  Then one day you will be bathed by sunlight again.  Sure the tsunamis will flatten you at will, but know this.  You will stand up again.  Then you’ll stand there and egg them on, because you know that you may lose the battle, but you WILL win the war.  There is always compromise in life.  You will never stop missing your spouse, yet somehow the pain in your heart gets slowly pushed out by the love in your heart.  I reckon my heart is now 90% love with a mix of 10% pain, after over 3 years.  And I think that’s as good as it’s going to get.  It feels right.  Anyway, he’s worth every second of that pain.  Every second.  I’d do it all again just for a taste of him.  At this point in time I identify strongly with the expression that honouring the dead is all about gratitude (rather than grief) … but it takes an ocean of tears and a long time till you come near to coming near to agreeing with those words.  I don’t want another relationship.  I might indulge in a bit of fun occasionally, however I just don’t want to be bothered with living with someone again.  I can’t imagine it without feeling irritated, just at the mere thought of having to deal with all their idiosyncrasies … because he set such a high bar, I know in my heart, no one will ever come close.  I know the idea is NOT to compare, but I equally know my own faults and limits.  I’m happy and privileged to have had that amazing man and true love. People always said that they wanted love / marriage like ours.  We both knew what we had.  It’s enough for me.

To wrap up, I’d like to share that I have a Pandora bracelet.  Each charm symbolizes a cherished memory or Cliff, or a person dear to me.  On that bracelet there is a lighthouse.  And that lighthouse stands for 3 very special women:  Suzann Eisenberg Murray (The Grief Project), Marty Tousley (online bereavement counsellor / Hospice of the Valley, Arizona) and Michele Neff Hernandez (Soaring Spirits Loss Foundation).  I could wax lyrical and never do justice … there are simply no words to explain how much I owe these three amazing women.  In a nutshell, when I was lost, in darkness, scared and lost, no safe harbour in sight, isolated and so alone … they would lead me into safe waters, give me respite, let me anchor down for a while and gather my thoughts, refuel my soul and top up my courage and common sense levels to fight another day.

wisdom270pxMy name: Alicia

On the 7th anniversary of Nick’s death, the boys and I lit a candle and sang the memorial prayers that are the custom of our faith.

The moment we were done, Sam (age 9) burst into tears: I miss Daddy! he wailed. I dropped to my knees and held him while he sobbed. And I cried with him. He was only 2 when Nick died. He doesn’t remember him; he doesn’t remember his voice, his laugh, his smile, his love. He doesn’t know what it’s like to have a dad. But oh, how he misses him.

Neil (age 13) turned away and walked out of the room. He stood in the doorway with his back to us, trying to hide from it all. I went to him and held him. He allowed me to hold him, his arms behind his back, tears in his eyes. He doesn’t want to know anything about tears or emotions or pain; he never has. I’m not sure he’s ever really cried about Nick’s death. Ever. Finally, when I was pulling away, he reached an arm around me and held on and allowed himself to rest his head on me for a moment.

My poor boys: The one yearning for something he doesn’t remember; the other, turning away from everything he does remember. My heart breaks for them both, for their sorrow on top of my own, for their loss on top of my own, for their unutterable, unfixable pain on top of my own. My poor boys.

grief_barn_swallowsMy name: Suzann

The clock moves slowly now towards November 14th and the second anniversary of Tom’s death. That month is here again and I touch back to life as I knew it; to life as we were living it.

The second year is crazed. You are “better” because life moves on and you move too. You are raw and open to the pain – not like the first year. That first year when you cry without warning a million times a day. When you are a walking zombie that can’t remember your own name half the time.

The second year, your tears fill your silent time, soak your pillow at night – always hovering in the background as you try to rebuild life one step at a time. The time moves slowly forward and you learn to laugh again and feel the joy of life – and yet it is always there, floating just beyond your eyesight – that utter desolation and loss.

Last night I wept long into the night; something I have not done for quite awhile. I miss my life and am totally confused because what is my life? Is it this new life I am forging and then – what of the life I loved, the dreams we shared, the warmth of your body in bed at night, the strength of your laughter echoing from the other room, the dancing in the kitchen, the apple fritters, hugs from behind while washing dishes. Growing old together is not to be. Oh weeping shadows on the wall – guide me as I reflect and continue to make meaning of this transformative journey.

I posted this to my blog on November 2, 2006 – it is now 5 and a half years since I wrote those words. I have rebuilt my life – the grief journey is one of loss and great transformation. I know I will love and honor Tom until the end of my own days. There is life after death – one step at a time. Namaste.

wisdom270pxMy name: Alicia

Widowed people often struggle with the idea of “moving on,” “moving forward,” “letting go.” We hear that is what we need to be doing so often that we actually start to believe it.

I have come to embrace the idea of evolving, rather than moving on. “Moving on” and “letting go” seem to emphasize leaving our spouses and our former lives behind; evolution, however, speaks to integrating the best part of our love and life with our spouses with the changes taking place in our deepest selves.

I am not the woman I was on July 31, 2004, the day before Nick’s tumor was diagnosed. She’s within me, but she is not all of me.
I am not the woman I was on August 4, 2004, the day of Nick’s surgery, from which he never woke. She’s within me, but she is not all of me.
I am not the woman I was on August 8, 2004, the day I kissed Nick goodbye and told him I loved him too much to let him suffer. She’s within me, but she is not all of me.
I am not the woman I was on August 12, 2004, the day I buried my face in his before they closed the casket, telling him to save me a seat at the banquet table. She’s within me, but she is not all of me.
I am not the woman I was on any of the subsequent days of weeping, wailing, grieving, praying, struggling, crawling, begging, gasping, drowning, clawing, crashing, screaming, grasping, kneeling, keening, rising, standing, stumbling, falling, climbing, moving, living, aching, trying, healing, knowing, dying, helping, forgiving, growing, forgetting, loving, giving, resting, breathing …

She’s within me, but she is not all of me.

I am evolving into a new person, still recognizable as “Alicia,” but oh so very different — and for the most part I am a better person. My life is evolving in directions unforeseen when Nick first died — and for the most part, I like what I see. Yes, the loss is still terrible — all those terrible things are still terrible. But the passage of time allows me to see them as part of the creation of me, not the destruction of all of me.

It’s been two years since Nick died. I don’t have any words to add to what other widows before me have written about the passage of time, except this: I am forever changed, but not forever broken.

* * * * *

It’s now nearly 8 years since Nick’s death, 6 years since I wrote this piece. It’s all still true.