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The Wandering Widow

Observations, Tips and Reckless Truth Telling on the Road Through Grief

Heirlooms

A Wondering Widow Post

I continue to offload my worldly possessions to go in search of adventure, and last night I watched my Christmas heirlooms get divvied up and walk out the door. Out of everything that has been sold or given away, this is the one that got under my skin. I hadn’t even wanted to be in the room, but couldn’t bring myself to leave.

Old Lisa was a Christmas Elf. Every one of life’s milestones or memories was translated into a special ornament that ended up on a giant Christmas tree that needed an extension ladder to decorate. Watching my sisters unwrap each one was an instant flashback to that memory, just like it was each Christmas, only now those memories hurt. Putting the Christmas stocking I handmade for Dan into the kidlet’s pile was painful.  And it made me cranky! I could hear a harsh edge creep into my voice as I explained the stories behind each ornament. Not exactly the way I wanted two of the people I love most in the world to remember the evening. 

After sleeping on it, I realized that it was all okay and they are just things. (Isn’t it amazing how much power we give to inanimate objects?) Many of those memories are shared by my family, and as those ornaments are unwrapped and hung on their trees, they will continue to be kept alive. And more importantly, they will go back to being happy memories to be enjoyed during our family’s favorite holiday.  I guess in a way it means I’ll still be with them this Christmas, even as I’m out making new Christmas memories on the other side of the world. 

XOXO,

The Wandering Widow

Photo credit to Jm Storm. You can find his book, In My Head, on Amazon.

How Bad Is It, Really?

A Wondering Widow Post

I recently had a conversation with someone (an acquaintance whom I hadn’t heard from in over a year) who was freaking out over something full of drama at work. She was spooled up, and I don’t want to diminish her concerns, but if you call me for advice you need to understand that my benchmark for crisis isn’t what it used to be and you may not like what I have to say. I’m happy to listen and empathize, but if you ask my opinion and I tell you it’s small potatoes, just remember how I got here. If you just want to vent, preface your bitch session with that so I understand my role in the conversation. Or, better yet,  call someone else so I can focus on positive healing energy.

Old Lisa used to freak out about a lot of stuff. Recovering Control Freak, remember?  New Lisa is a lot more chill. My new yardstick is pretty simple. Is <<fill in the blank with the potential problem>> worse than watching the person you love most in the world die a gruesome death right in front of you?   If yes, freak out immediately ’cause that $hit is really bad. If no, breathe through your nose and mellow out. Whatever it is can be fixed or isn’t worth your time and energy. 

Insensitive?  Yes. What the hell were you thinking calling me, the grieving widow, about this? Oh,  you mean me? Perhaps. And Old Lisa would have worried about that too. New Lisa says small potatoes.  Life is full of disappointments.  It’s also full of beauty and magic and wonder. Go outside and admire the sun or the moon or the stars. Look around you at all the blessings you have in your life.  Go for a run. Do whatever you need to do to find perspective. Let yourself have a pity party if you must, but don’t stay there long. And maybe take a look at your phone tree and take a few moments to think before you call someone grieving to vent about your problems. We still want to be a part of your lives, but come on.

XOXO,

The Wandering Widow

P.S. Calling me to complain about your husband, who is still alive, will probably invite Hulk Smash Lisa to the party. Do us both a favor and don’t go there.

How Did I Get Here?

A Wondering Widow Post

It’s surreal. How did I get here? How can it possibly have been a whole year? How can it have been 365 days since that horrible morning when I watched Dan die? How have I survived 8760 hours of being broken wide open? Shattered? How can 525,600 minutes have passed without him in a single one? It doesn’t seem real. It doesn’t seem right.

And yet here we are, at his one-year deathiversary. I know some people hate that word. No judgment here if you are one of those who prefers angelversary. While I do like to look for the positive in every situation, I also refuse to sugar coat a turd. To-may-to, to-mah-to, we all cope in our own way. But I digress.

The last year has been a journey that often left me feeling like a refugee from my own life. I have at times been appalled at things people have said or done. I have also been overwhelmed with gratitude at the kindness of strangers. And I have fallen more deeply in love with my friends and family for whom I am incredibly blessed. Not only did they walk this path beside me, I’ve lost count of how many times they picked me up and carried me. And, truthfully, sometimes those brave souls had to drag me along kicking and screaming.

The old me died that day when Dan took his last breath. That was also the day I was reborn, like the phoenix rising from the ashes. In the last year, I’ve had to figure out who I am in this new reality. Here are a few things I’ve learned about the new Lisa. And you know what?  I kinda like her.

  • The new me has ninja level survivor bada$$ery. I’m stronger than I ever dreamed possible.  My proof? Laughter.  I can still laugh, even through the tears. Admittedly, sometimes it’s a Lt. Dan crazy kinda laughter, but laughter nonetheless. Even after nights like last night where I was a f@#$%&g bawling train wreck.
  • The new me is brave. Mostly.  I kept breathing when I didn’t want to. When I was too afraid to think about the future, I kept putting one foot in front of the other anyway. I may not have always looked up from my feet but persisted in the direction of the unknown. I now recognize that asking for help and being vulnerable are where real courage lies. If you knew the old Lisa, you’d know how significant this is. 
  • The new me pursues happiness and joy with abandon and without apology. 
  • Life is too short to put up with bull$hit. The new me has learned to walk away, purge, move on, forgive, and not look back.
  • I’m keeping it real. The new me is a card carrying member of the reckless truth teller club. Authentic has become one of those business buzzwords, but that doesn’t take the power out of our truths. To wrap my brain around my own grief, I share and hopefully help others in the process. No more carefully curated social media presence, no more worrying about what other people think. This girl DGAF about pretense. Like it? Great. Don’t like it? Reference previous “life is too short to put up with bull$shit” and move along. (Dan, inventor of DGAF, would be both proud and horrified).
  • The new me is obsessively grateful. I recognize that every second we are on this earth is a gift. No more sweatin’ the small stuff. No more 60 hour work weeks. No more waiting. No more I’ll call them later. It’s all about living now, loving now, laughing now and making sure those we love know how valued they are. 

To those of you who pop in to read my story, thank you. Thanks for showing up to bear witness to all the ugly and beautiful bits of my grief journey.

XOXO,
The Wandering Widow

A Widow’s Rage Defense of Patton Oswalt’s Engagement

Ommmmmmm

A Grief Recovery Project Post

Of all the things I tried for The Grief Recovery Project, meditation was the hardest. I tried a bunch of different things…Buddhify and Calm (both apps), YouTube videos, pretty much anything that wasn’t a class. I quickly learned meditation worked really great at one thing…making me fall asleep. Meditation became synonymous with napping. Clearly, I was doing something wrong.

Ben, my hypnotherapist, told me about a study that showed how meditation helped those with PTSD and depression. In this study brain scans were done on the participants at the start and end of an eight-week meditation challenge. The scans revealed that the hippocampus was undersized at the start of the eight weeks. After eight weeks of daily meditation, scans were done again which revealed a normal sized hippocampus. Cool. You know me and science, so of course, I wanted some pretty pictures of my hippocampus. Since you can’t just walk into a lab and get some taken, I had to go on faith and my meditation journal.

Since I kept falling asleep, Ben encouraged me to be sitting up during meditation. That made my back hurt and I couldn’t find my zen. A friend gave me a tip about sitting upright on a cushion with my tailbone against the wall to cut down on the back pain. That helped a lot, but I was still easily distracted…breathe in, breathe out, grocery list, bills to pay, what flowers to plant, shiny thing, shiny thing, shiny thing. I took a tip from Pema Chodron in her book When Things Fall Apart and would recognize that I was distracted and let whatever that thought was float away with the exhale. Everything was about focusing on the breath, being mindful of my breathing.

Photo credit to CNSforum.com

So did it work? Om, yeah it did. I still get the fidgets. I still get distracted by random thoughts. But after eight weeks of daily meditation, I found it is easier to step out of emotionally charged moments and just breathe. If I skip a day I feel it. The days I meditate I fall asleep faster and sleep better. I also deal with the grief related social anxiety better, which is the whole reason I went to see my hypnotherapist in the first place.

Oh, and if you know where I can get a hippocampus scan let me know.

XOXO,

The Wandering Widow

Letter to my 25 year old self

A Wondering Widow Post

Dear Lisa,

It’s 20 years from now, and amazing things are about to happen in your life.  I wish I could spare you the heartbreak and pain ahead, but can truthfully say it will forge you into a better you. And while it won’t feel like it, you will survive.  Here are some words of wisdom I wish you could hear:

1. Your goal to retire at 45 WILL happen, but you will pay an unbelievably horrible price to achieve it.  Don’t let that stop you from doing it.

2. Forever isn’t linear, it’s now. Forever is in every tiny moment. Don’t waste a single one. Stop working so damned much and invest those tiny moments in those you love and those that love you. Memories will always be worth more than things (trust me, at this exact moment you are selling everything you own). Take that trip. Take the class. Take a chance on love. Take the risk of living outside the plan, and outside what is expected of you. Sometimes happiness lies on the other side of playing it safe.

3. You have no control over anything but your attitude. I know your inner control freak won’t believe me until the universe decides it’s a lesson you WILL learn, and it will be in the hardest way possible.  It’s okay. It will be okay.

4. You are f@#$%^g awesome. I know you will spend years feeling insecure and not enough. You will hide those fears and lack of confidence in a hard shell that does you no favors.  Don’t be afraid. Believe in yourself. You are stronger than you could possibly know. 

5. It’s taken me our whole life for me to learn to love me.  Love you for you, and don’t wait so damned long to do it. 

XOXO,

Future You,  aka The Wandering Widow

You’re Getting Very Sleepy

A Grief Recovery Project Post

You’ve probably heard about the five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. While many people do indeed experience those emotional stages, they sure as hell aren’t linear.


I told you I would try anything in the Grief Recovery Project, and Hypnotherapy was a surprise hit. I’d only ever seen it in comedy routines or cop dramas on TV. It’s nothing like that. The best way I can describe it is a very deep guided meditation and you are in a very relaxed state. You are awake and aware the entire time, so the only way you can end up quacking like a duck is if you really want to end up quacking like a duck. Like anything on the GRP list, it helps to be open to the experience. I was VERY skeptical as I met with my hypnotherapist the first time, but he came highly recommended by someone I trust and I was desperate to speed up my recovery process.

One of the reasons I went to see Ben was the intense social anxiety that showed up after Dan died. Remember, social anxiety is super common with grief, especially in the months immediately following the loss of your spouse. I would have full blown panic attacks at the thought of going out to see my friends. If I managed to get dressed to go to work, I’d sit in my car hyperventilating til I almost blacked out. I wrote at least a dozen resignation letters for a job I love because the pressure was too great. I “opted out” of the holidays because the thought of being with that many people, even the family kind of people, made me want to vomit. I was being held hostage by my grief. Ben helped me work through the social anxiety very quickly, and in the process uncovered some other issues that were contributing to my general state of post-Dan cray-cray.  


Remember when my grief counselor said that to work through it, I’d have to feel the feelings? Apparently I’d drawn the line for some of those feelings. In my very first hypnotherapy session we uncovered my anger. Up until that day, I would have told you that I wasn’t angry and that maybe I’d skipped that step. That was a convenient lie I told myself. I was angry. So, so angry. But I’d repressed it…that kind of rage isn’t ladylike, and showing it was definitely not accepted in my Asian culture. I also had some really big conflicting emotions since I was raised in a conservative Christian household and the person I was most angry with was God. So @#$%^&* angry at God. And Dan for leaving me. And my Dad for not being there to advise me through this. And Mom for being unavailable to mother me due to her own grief. And the world for not understanding me. And myself. So f@#$%^  angry at myself. I’m a fixer. There is no problem I can’t solve. And now when it mattered most, I had failed to solve two big ones back to back. I couldn’t save my Dad. And no matter what I did I couldn’t save Dan. No wonder I was struggling with anxiety–I HATED both God and myself and felt guilty about it. Angry at the divine and the divine within. Damn.  

Once I acknowledged the anger I was able to move forward with forgiveness. If you hate Frozen, I’m sorry, but I had to Let It Go. Forgiving was hard. I forgave God for all the suffering he rained down on my family and for killing the two men I loved most in the world. I forgave my family and friends for not understanding me or for disappearing after the funeral. I forgave the person who kept manipulating me to get more money. I forgave everyone. It took a long time but, eventually, I even forgave myself. 

So did hypnotherapy work? I’d say so. In combination with my grief counseling and Reiki, I was able to move through things a lot faster. Hypnotherapy helped me bring down my self-constructed barriers to get to the root of the problem, and I’m glad I tried it. And no, I’m not getting sleepy. If anything, I’m more awake than ever before.

XOXO,

The Wandering Widow

P.S. I lucked out with a great personal referral, but if you’re interested in trying it visit the National Board For Certified Clinical Hypnotherapists to research hypnotherapists in your area.

Reiki Me

A Grief Recovery Project Post

So far I’ve explored grief counseling, acupuncture, and massage therapy as part of the Grief Recovery Project. Now we’re on to Reiki as a treatment for grief recovery.

Reiki was the wildcard for me since I’d never tried it before. According to Reiki.org, Reiki is a Japanese practice based on the idea that an unseen “life force energy” flows through us and is what causes us to be alive. If one’s “life force energy” is low, then we are more likely to get sick or feel stress, and if it is high, we are more capable of being happy and healthy. Yep, now we’re on to Japanese voodoo magic.

I’d heard about it a few years ago from Karl and Angela Robb, Reiki Masters and fellow Parkinson’s advocates. Their research showed that Reiki could help with Parkinson’s symptoms. Color me intrigued, but I didn’t know anyone locally and had some doubts– voodoo magic and all. That changed when hospice sent a Reiki master to help Dan. I got to observe the whole thing. I don’t know what exactly happened as he was working on Dan’s energy, but I watched Dan’s breathing visibly soften and the muscles in his face relax. All without any real physical touch. Dan was already in a coma at this point, so there was no way he was influencing the results. Nikola Tesla had lots to say about energy, and he was one of the smartest people that ever lived. Don’t knock it til you try it.

So I tried it. Each session lasts about an hour. All the Reiki practitioners I’ve met are very normal (whatever that means) people, so if you’re expecting some purple robed or kimono wearing hippie you’re likely to be very disappointed. Reiki studios are a lot like a massage studio, the lights are dimmed for your relaxation and spa music may be playing for the same reason, but it’s clean and modern. Cost for a reiki session is comparable to a massage but may vary depending on the experience of the Reiki practitioner and your location. Every session I’ve had is different but I know I feel like I’ve gained ground after each one. Notice that I didn’t say I feel better, because that’s not always the case, although I never feel worse. It’s more like I skip ahead a few steps on the grief journey without actually moving. Whether that means releasing bad energy like sadness, fear, or anger, or taking on better energy, it has worked wonders for me, helping me feel more relaxed and less anxious.


Just like finding a good acupuncturist or massage therapist, get a referral to a good Reiki practitioner. I lucked out and found Kristin Harwood of In Transition Wellness here in Boise.  This is what she has to has to say about Reiki and grief recovery.

When a person experiences a traumatic or stressful experience, their emotions can be stored in the body creating blocks and disrupting their natural flow of energy. If not dealt with, these emotions can build up over time and start expressing themselves in a physical, emotional or energetic way, affecting our daily lives.

Grief and acceptance operate on their own timetable and people need time to reach a place of peace and acceptance. Reiki and similar healing practices can offer a compassionate and caring approach to assist others in their return to wholeness in body, mind and spirit with grace and gentleness.

Reiki can help those who have lost a loved one, reignite their relationship with themselves and sense of purpose, helping them to regain their sense of personal power. It also helps people manage and release emotions that may feel overwhelming, such as anger, sadness, helplessness and grief. It can help strengthen a person’s resilience and ability to deal with situations and emotions which may feel overwhelming. A peaceful, compassionate environment and a respectful Reiki practitioner can create a place of quiet comfort where grief and sadness can come to rest and release as needed without words or expectations, if that’s preferred.

Have you tried Reiki as part of your grief recovery? I’d love to hear about it. 

XOXO,

The Wandering Widow

After thought for friends and family: If you want to help and are looking for something different than another casserole, just like acupuncture and massage therapy, you can gift Reiki sessions to your W.  

No disrespect to casseroles or their makers. 

Surprise! Grief Hurts.

A Grief Recovery Project Post

One of the things most people don’t realize about grief is that it hurts. Physically. According to Dr. Alan D. Wolfelt, muscle aches and pains, shortness of breath, feelings of emptiness in your stomach, tightness in your throat or chest, digestive problems, sensitivity to noise, heart palpitations, queasiness, nausea, headaches, increased allergy symptoms, changes in appetite, weight loss or gain, agitation, and generalized tension are all ways your body may react to losses that you encounter in life. I’m not a huge fan of pharmaceuticals for pain relief so tried other things that did help, including acupuncture and massage therapy. All stuff Dan would call Chinese voodoo magic. All stuff he ended up trying and benefitting from. Since this is a GRP post, I’ll do my best to describe them for you.

Acupuncture was something I’d heard about growing up in an Asian family but had never tried for myself. It’s an ancient Chinese discipline that uses fine needles (think as fine as a strand of hair) to clear our energy channels and help them get flowing correctly. I went for the first time to get some pain relief after a car accident a few years ago and I fell in love with my acupuncturist. She is nurturing and kind and also a researcher! Science + Chinese voodoo magic?!? Now you’re speaking my language! Each session lasts about an hour, and you’ll probably need at least three sessions to see some progress, although I felt better instantly. After needles are in you get to chill out and relax for a bit. The first visit you may leave feeling a little high or euphoric, so be sure you don’t have to go back to work. The needles are small and don’t usually hurt. If they do, let your acupuncturist know so they can switch to an even smaller needle. 

Even though the needles are very small, some people are just flat out nervous about trying them. Remember how I told you my acupuncturist also does research? Well, she did a cool research project using laser acupuncture on Dan and actually wrote about the experience. Here is a link: https://www.miridiatech.com/news/2016/04/aah-relief-from-cancer-pain/&nbsp;


Kimberly made house calls when it became too much for him to travel to her office. And on that last morning she was there with us to help bring him relief as he let go from the pain. She was holding his hand and had just put in the first needle when he left us. That’s a story for her to tell but I choose to believe it helped him make that final leap. 

Side note: none of us there that morning have ever spoken to each other about what we witnessed.  


Kimberly also recommended massage therapy as part of my Grief Recovery Project. She didn’t have to tell me twice! Think about how many times a day you touch your spouse and then imagine that gone in an instant. Sensory deprivation is a real thing. Massage therapy was helpful not just for the physical touch but also to help with circulation and pain relief. To be pampered and nurtured through massage therapy is something I’d recommend for anyone in grief recovery. If you’ve never had a massage, sign up for one right now, I’ll wait. Don’t know a massage therapist? Ask around for referrals from people you trust. Reputable therapists maintain an office, keep up with training and certifications, and (in some states) are licensed. If there are bars on the windows or no one there speaks English, you are in the wrong kind of massage place.

Have you tried acupuncture or massage therapy as part of your grief recovery project? I’d love to hear your thoughts.
XOXO,

The Wandering Widow

P.S. Our family was blessed by people who wanted to help. One of my friends heard how acupuncture was blessing our lives and worked out a system with our acupuncturist for people to donate acupuncture visits. She explained how it helped with the pain and the hard emotions we were going through. She then posted a link and a phone number to our acupuncturist. If you have a W you’d like to help, this could be a great way to do it.

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