My Marriage Didn’t End When I Became a Widow

Posted on Apr 16, 2017 in Caregiving, Facing One's Own Death, Spousal/Partner Loss

Today’s post features a 2016 New York Times article, “My Marriage Didn’t End When I Became a Widow” by Lucy Kalanithi. I know it is now 2017, but I think it is important to hear Lucy’s voice before I introduce you to her husband, Paul.

When Lucy’s husband, a young and brilliant Stanford neurosurgeon, was diagnosed with Stage 4 cancer, he moved within the world of medicine from physician to patient. Lucy, also a physician, became his caregiver and the mother of a daughter conceived after Paul’s diagnosis.

Paul Kalanithi died in March 2015, while working on his book When Breath Becomes Air. The book is beautifully written (not many physicians also have two degrees in English literature) and an inspiring memoir. It was named one of the best books of 2016 by the Washington Post, The New York Times and National Public Radio, and has 4.7 out of 5 stars from 6,265 readers on Amazon.

Janet Maslin from the NYT says: I guarantee that finishing this book and then forgetting about it is simply not an option. Part of this book’s tremendous impact comes from the obvious fact that its author was such a brilliant polymath. And part comes from the way he conveys what happened to him—passionately working and striving, deferring gratification, waiting to live, learning to die—so well. None of it is maudlin. Nothing is exaggerated. As he wrote to a friend: “It’s just tragic enough and just imaginable enough.” And I say just important enough to be unmissable.

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Featured Book: Insomniac City, New York, Oliver and Me.

Posted on Feb 26, 2017 in General Grief, Spousal/Partner Loss


The late Oliver Sacks’s life partner, Bill Hayes, has written Insomniac City, New York, Oliver and Me. It is an incredible memoir and honors his relationship with Oliver, Oliver’s decline and death, and Bill’s love of New York City. The writing, the telling, pulls the reader into a place that is quietly special.

I suppose it’s a cliché to say you’re glad to be alive, that life is short, but to say you’re glad to be not dead requires a specific intimacy with loss that comes only with age or deep experience. One has to know not simply what dying is like, but to know death itself, in all its absoluteness.

 

After all, there are many ways to die — peacefully, violently, suddenly, slowly, happily, unhappily, too soon. But to be dead — one either is or isn’t.

 

The same cannot be said of aliveness, of which there are countless degrees. One can be alive but half-asleep or half-noticing as the years fly, no matter how fully oxygenated the blood and brain or how steadily the heart beats. Fortunately, this is a reversible condition. One can learn to be alert to the extraordinary and press pause — to memorize moments of the everyday.

 

I highly recommend the book – for many reasons – but it shines in its ability to remove the reader from the current political intensity. It reminds us that we can be inspired. It reminds us that the world at large doesn’t need to change who we are or how we chose to be. It reminds us to pay attention to what brings us joy.

Found on Amazon.com

 

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Entering into a New Relationship after the Death of a Life Partner

Posted on Apr 15, 2016 in Spousal/Partner Loss

Partner Loss

This post was originally featured on the OpentoHope.com newsletter.

How many photos are too many?

One of the most charming questions I ever received in one of my second year spousal loss classes came from a middle-aged man named Sam. He said, “If I were to invite a woman over to dinner, how many framed pictures of my deceased wife would be too many?”

His question was a good one. Sam, like most people who have lost a mate, had increased the number of framed photos around his house so he could feel his late wife’s presence. I answered his question with one of my own: “If you went into a widow’s home, how many photos of her deceased spouse would it take for you to feel uncomfortable?” He laughed and said it was time to dismantle the shrine. He went on to say that he was going to invite a woman over to his home for dinner because he missed having a meaningful conversation with the opposite sex.

The void created by “not belonging to another”

Social connections are key to emotional health. They remind us of our value. Research supports that those of us who are socially connected are healthier, have fewer stress-related problems, and recover from trauma and illness faster. Yet many widows and widowers are reticent to seek a new partner because the quality of the relationship – long term- is uncertain. Occasionally, a class member is brave enough to express his or her apprehension by saying, “What happens if I remarry and find I’m unhappier than I am living alone?” It’s a good question and a valid concern.

However, I recently sent a questionnaire to 90 widows and widowers I have worked with over the years. Of the 60 percent who responded, more than half are happily remarried or in a committed relationship. Many reported that their current relationship was more loving and rewarding than the one they had with their deceased mate.

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Spousal Loss, the 2nd Year:
Same Sky, Different Vista

Posted on Jul 12, 2015 in General Grief, Spousal/Partner Loss

Sky

For behind all things lies something vaster; everything is but a path, a portal, or a window opening on something more than itself.Antoine de Saint-Exupery, Wind, Sand, and Stars

Shifting from “what was” to “what will be”

Stroebe and Schut define grieving as a process of “oscillating between stepping back into yearning for the past, and stepping forward to construct a future.” Dominique Browning refers to this as a time of alternating between “holding on and hiding, and holding on and seeking.”

In any case, it involves a kind of rocking movement, similar to how you would free your car when one of your tires sinks deep into mud or snow. As you shift gears from reverse into forward, rocking back and forth, back and forth, back and forth, you finally gain traction and are out of the hole—only to realize you that you have little idea of where you are going. However, the lack of a destination is often less uncomfortable than the fear that you are leaving your loved one behind.

Who are you to become

A woman in class once commented, “There was a time when I couldn’t imagine feeling alive again, and now I freak out when I realize I haven’t thought of my partner for a couple of days.” This response is not unusual; some people say they prefer the pain of grief over the uneasiness and apprehension that comes from starting over.

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Not Everyone Grieves the Death of a Family Member

Posted on Jan 25, 2015 in Caregiving, General Grief, Spousal/Partner Loss

jan_2015Death ends a life—not a good or a bad relationship

The bereaved often find first-year support group sessions comforting because they are with others who also feel the pressure to hide their sorrow and pretend they aren’t disoriented, sleep-deprived and anxious. While it is common to hear people express relief that a loved one no longer has to suffer, seldom do individuals say they feel set free by a death.

The book Liberating Losses: When death brings relief by Jennifer Elison, EDD and Chris McFonigle, PhD opens up the subject of “relief grief” and supports those who live in silence for fear of being judged and ostracized.

Not every death is tragedy

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Coping with the Holiday Season after the Recent Death of a Spouse

Posted on Dec 14, 2014 in Fresh Grief, Holidays, Spousal/Partner Loss

How will you get through the season?

Every year the holidays come with a rush: typically Halloween hits and life becomes a blur until January 2nd. But this is not a typical holiday season for you, and what you will likely notice—for the first time—are couples out and about coping with the holiday blur together, underlining the fact that you are now alone.

There is one consolation you can count on: January is not far off. Until then you can limit added holiday distress by remembering to:

  1. participate when and where you feel most comfortable
  2. give yourself permission to leave a gathering early, and
  3. fight the desire to isolate entirely.

Where have you historically felt comfortable?

If being with family has provided a warm comforting holiday environment in the past, surround yourself with family this year, but keep in mind they are grieving as well. If there is ongoing family discord, limit your family time and focus on quality time with close friends.

Why doesn’t anyone mention your loss?

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