The Wandering Widow

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


Grief Counseling

Understanding Grief: Grief Recovery is a Privilege 

A Wondering Widow Post

I was recently accused of putting a positive spin on grief, and it wasn’t intended as a compliment. I won’t lie. Once, when someone screamed at me in anger that I was Pollyanna, I thanked them and took it as one of the best compliments I’d ever received. And that was before cancer ever showed up on our radar. I DO try to find the glittery silver lining in whatever $hitclouds life throws my way. I know some people find it annoying. But it’s how I survive. No matter what, I choose to believe people are good, things get better, and love is real. There you go, a little Lisa 101 to give you a point of reference.

But no. No matter how hard we try to focus on the positive, there is no positive spin on grief. WE can grow and transform and develop, but grief itself sucks. It’s the evil joy stealing vampire that won’t let go of your heart. Ever. Ever ever. But you can find a way to make it less deadly and more symbiotic, like one of those gross fish parasites. How’s that for a lovely visual with your morning Cheerios?

Those of you that have been following along know I was repeatedly encouraged by my grief counselors to “feel the feelings” and that I chose to go deep into the grief recovery process. I’d usually say that I dove head first, but in this case, I could only push myself up from the bottom of the abyss. And I recognize it was a privilege to be able to do so.

I talk to the other widows in my tribe regularly. From all over the world; in person and online, we share our grief journeys. And the thing I don’t usually like to talk about is not everyone moves forward. Not everyone can, and not everyone wants to. I’ve met widows that have been on this journey for years, sometimes decades. And they are stuck. They weren’t allowed to grieve the way they needed to and have lived with the pain for so long they don’t know how to get out and no longer care. They have been abandoned or left behind by family and friends who couldn’t handle their grief. They are no longer living and wrap their grief around them like an old tattered blanket. Maybe it’s better to have something familiar and horrible than something new and scary and MAYBE beautiful. (FYI, for those of you even thinking about telling a widow she needs to move forward or that she’s stuck, please see me first so I can throat punch some sense into you).

I’ve also met widows that have no help. On top of the emotional black hole, they are struggling to survive on their own financially.  Taking time to “feel the feelings” is a luxury they don’t have. Not dealing with the feelings takes a toll on your physical health and mental well-being. It’s a vicious cycle. There is a reason that widows as a demographic live at or below the poverty level. My heart breaks for them. I know that I am one of the lucky ones.

So many widows are forced to go back to work before they are emotionally ready. I worked for the world’s BEST company who not only waited for me, they picked up a f@#$%^g sword and helped me fight my way back to life. When I made the difficult decision to leave, they lifted me up on their shields and celebrated my survival and new adventure like a bada$$ Viking queen. I am blessed. I know not everyone has that kind of support network.

And unlike many of my fellow widows, Dan and I had the chance to say the things most of us think we have more time for. We chose not to say goodbye because there wasn’t enough oxygen on this planet to allow us to breathe those words out loud.  But I know without a doubt that Dan loved me, and that he knew I loved him. I know without a doubt that my family and friends love me and have saved me repeatedly, from the worst situations to just holding space with me when they didn’t know what else to do. I have no question in my heart about how much I am loved.

After spending so much time being miserable, bitter, hurt and angry about how life cheated me out of my happily ever after, I’ve worked hard to find the positives and be grateful for the time we had. And don’t for a second fool yourself into thinking it’s easy. Learning to re-frame life’s most f@#$%d up moment is harder than any mountain climb I’ve ever done. And I think that’s what makes the most significant difference of all. When I meet all of these widows at varying stages of their grief journeys the ones that can still be grateful for what was, in spite of the pain of what is, seem to be the ones that find it “easiest” to move forward.

To my fellow grievers, my random thoughts are in no way meant as any form of judgment. We all walk paths that are unique to us. When the clouds roll in, and I’m straining to find the silver lining, I pull that glitter straight out of my heart and throw it around until I can find some light. I’m happy to share if you need some for yours. And no matter where you are on your journey, don’t ever forget you’re not alone, you matter, and you are loved.  Of that I’m positive.

The Wandering Widow
Live Now. Dream Big. Love Fierce.

P/C Pixabay

Muscle Memory

A Grief Recovery Project Post 

I promised you the good, the bad and the ugly in the interest of shining a light on the ugly underbelly of the grief no one wants to talk about.  And this is ugly. Most of my posts show up months after the fact, giving me time to process through things. This one is in real time, and it’s messy. Sometimes you can see a grief storm headed your way and you can hunker down and wait it out.  Other times, it’s a Category 10 Hurricane, and you have to take steps to keep from being destroyed.  Brace yourself, the mother of all storms is coming.

I can feel the winds changing. I’ve been in a really good place. Really freaking good.  And happy, with my eyes on the future. There are still sad days, but those days don’t steal the light from the sky. I can be both happy and sad at the same time and still feel okay. At least I could until about a week ago.  Something was different.  Off.  Like a storm that blows in from multiple directions, I was being buffeted by multiple emotions at the same time. After a week of wondering where this PMS on steroids was coming from I looked at the calendar and realized what it was, and that it was only going to get worse. In less than a month we’ll hit the one-year deathiversary milestone.

My grief counselor describes it as muscle memory. The closer we get to THAT DATE, the more my body and emotions revert back to a year ago. Great.  I can’t  have muscle memory on leg day at the gym, but my brain sends me back in time to the worst period of my life?!?! Fanfreakingtastic. My blood pressure skyrockets and adrenaline floods my system. The nightmares have returned. I’m losing sleep because I’m back to waking up every day around 4 am to give him meds. WTF?!  I don’t have time for this. I’m back to work full time. I’m back to life full time. I’m putting on a memorial golf tournament in a week! I don’t have time for the grief monsters to come back.

Although it’s not like they ask for permission or anything. The crying never really stopped, although it did slow down. But now I’m angry, which is new. Marshawn Lynch can keep Beast Mode, right now I own Bitch Mode (or it owns me), and that’s way scarier.  And it’s more than anger, it’s rage. It feels like my skin doesn’t fit right and I’m looking for a fight in every corner. And not just a verbal smackdown, I’m ready to gorilla stomp anyone who pushes the right buttons.  Kinda scary for someone who abhors violence. (Hmm it might be a good time to get back to my kickboxing class and work some of this out safely).

So how do I control the uncontrollable?  I can’t, which appears to be the lesson the universe really wants me to get through my thick skull. How do I get through the hurricane without taking everyone with me? I have no idea. I’m doing the best I can to batten down the hatches and face the storm head on.

First, I gave myself permission to be a mess for awhile. Kinda required when you are sobbing on the floor to the point you scare the dog.  Second, I acknowledged that it was okay to feel the feelings and get through them, even when that means something as yucky and distasteful as rage. I rallied my GRP support team and stacked my calendar with massage, acupuncture, grief counseling, hypnotherapy and Reiki appointments to help me get me through it. And with my friends and family holding on to me for dear life, I’m turning to face the storm head on.


The Wandering Widow

BTW if you see me coming and I look like I’m in Hulk Smash mode, you may want to retreat. I promise I’m doing the best I can, and hoping July 11th dawns with sunny blue skies and this storm rapidly fading in the distance.

Who Do You Write For?

Someone asked me recently why I only write for Widows and not a larger group of the grieving. This was part of a conversation on why The W Club is Widows only and doesn’t include Widowers or parents who had lost a child. It was an interesting question, and I had to think about it a bit.

Here’s the deal. I don’t write only for Widows. I write for myself. I write for other widows because we share a common story and we are part of the same tribe. I write for friends and family of W’s who are desperate to help and need insight. I write for my fellow grief journey travelers which by the way, includes all of us.

At some point in our lives, we will all experience loss. Maybe it’s not the death of a loved one. It could be due to divorce, the loss of a job, a pet, or a childhood dream. The point is we all experience loss. These losses impact us whether we want them to or not. We all grieve differently, but life ALWAYS comes with loss. If we can accept that loss is inevitable, it can free us to revel in all the other glorious live now moments life brings us.

With a few exceptions, the advice (or rants) I write aren’t Widow specific and can apply to anyone who is grieving. I’m not a professional, so can only share my experiences about what I’ve found helpful or harmful. As terrifying as it has been, I’ve chosen to shine the light on the dark side of grief that most of us hide from the world out of a sense of propriety or shame. Why would I open myself up to that kind of scrutiny and vulnerability? Because I know how alone it felt in the darkness, and I’ll do my damnedest to make sure no one else has to feel that. And if I can help just one person figure out how to reach out and grab the hand of their loved one who is grieving and not let go, it helps me find meaning in Dan’s horrible death. If I can help one widow avoid the internal dialog about taking her life, it makes my struggle worth it. And if one person who is grieving, regardless of the reason why, remembers that there are support options out there for them, being open and vulnerable was worth it.

So no, I don’t write only for Widows. I just happen to be one.


The Wandering Widow

What the heck happens at grief counseling anyway?

According to the great and all knowing Wikipedia, Grief counseling is a form of psychotherapy that aims to help people cope with grief and mourning following the death of loved ones, or with major life changes that trigger feelings of grief (e.g., divorce, or job loss).

There is a lot of info on the web from the counseling perspective, but not as much from the viewpoint of the recipient. All I can do is share my own experiences and hope that it offers insight to those of you who may be considering it.

First, I had to be open to it. I was going through the fires of hell and needed a guide to help me get out with as minimal damage as possible before I was burned alive. Everyone and their uncle telling you to get counseling isn’t helpful unless you want it. You also need to find a counselor who is a good fit for you. I was fortunate to have two great counselors help me through the process, but not everyone has that kind of luck. If you are serious about counseling, keep trying until you find the right one.

Since hospice fees include grief counseling (FYI not all hospice companies actually provide it even though they are supposed to) I started with the hospice chaplain, Jay. He was wonderful and had that soothing kind of voice you expect to hear on nighttime radio. He described hospice counseling to me as companion counseling. He’d walk this path with me but I would set the pace. He’d survived his own devastating loss and had a personal point of reference that was comforting. He came to the house once a week to visit with me. Week after week he’d sit on the couch across the room and just be there in a way no one else could. He’d ask me questions about Dan. What were my favorite memories? How did we meet? What was Dan like? After Dan’s gruesome passing, Jay was trying to help me remember that there were many positive memories. He also let me cry. A lot. A lot a lot. Every time I sobbed that I was broken, he assured me I was normal. All through Dan’s battle with cancer I kept hearing how strong I was (not true, by the way). I was on autopilot from the minute we heard the word cancer, even through the loss of my Dad a month after Dan’s diagnosis. Surrendering to the pain was not easy, and so much worse multiplied by two major losses. Jay helped me see that allowing the grief to happen was the true meaning of being strong. He also set the expectation that it was going to suck. Apparently super organized control freaks have a harder time with grief because we can’t control it. Go figure.

When I realized this was going to be a lengthy process I started working with Kelli. It didn’t feel right to keep utilizing hospice resources indefinitely, although Jay still checks in with me periodically. Fortunately, insurance covers this type of counseling, so all I had to do was call my primary doctor to get a referral. Kelli is very similar in her approach although takes a more active role in our sessions. She lets me talk. She asks questions to help me get where I need to be and helps me come to my own realizations of what I need to move forward. She’ll even stop me when I start going down the guilt path. And, much like Jay, she is my cheerleader. Our sessions feel more like having coffee with a girlfriend than anything clinical. Oh, and sometimes there is still crying, just not as much as before.

I don’t think I’d be functioning without either of them. Repressing grief is unhealthy, and almost always rears its ugly head within a year in one form or another. I made the commitment to myself that I would let the grief happen. “You have to feel the feelings” is what I was told up front. I wasn’t quite as prepared for how sucky those feelings can be but I’m glad I chose to take this journey.

What if you try counseling and just aren’t feeling it? I’ve talked to a number of W’s who just didn’t find counseling a fit for them…either the process or their counselor. Everyone is different. I’ve found it immensely valuable. 

  • If insurance is the issue, check to see if your employer offers an EAP which usually covers 5 sessions at a time. 
  • If you’re religious, seek out your clergy. Many have at least a small amount of counseling training. 
  • Try a support group…either in person or online (I’m a member of the online The W Club since leaving my house to go to a meeting doesn’t work for me).
  • Talk to a friend about what you’re feeling. Just be mindful that not everyone can handle our pain the way a counselor can.
  • And if you just didn’t click with your counselor, try another one.

Whatever you choose to do, please “feel the feelings” and give yourself permission to work through the process. Be kind to yourself. And remember, you aren’t alone.

Oh, and for those of you trying to help your W…you may gently suggest counseling, but no nagging allowed.

With permission from the author. Jm Storm quotes can be found on Facebook, Instagram and Etsy.

I came. I saw. I made it awkward.

The day you realize you’re the third wheel is always fun for a W.  It’s probably somewhere between the funeral (when acquantainces and lesser friends disappear) and the time you are ready to start dating again, that even your close straight male friends can’t get away fast enough.

It took me awhile to figure it out and when I did I was disappointed. Didn’t you promise Dan to keep an eye out for me? And I was hurt because I thought we were better friends than that. And then I laughed because it’s funny in a WTF kinda way.  Since one of my favorite pastimes is to discover the why in how the universe works, I’ve spent a great deal of time thinking about it. And since spending hours pondering is more fun with sharing, here are the results of my scientific research that mostly includes talking to other W’s over wine and sessions with my grief counselor who affirms this is a real thing.


Single male friends disappear because they don’t want to be seen as “that guy” who may be preying on the lonely widow.  They don’t want to dishonor the memory of their dead buddy.  And they may be worried the lonely widow wants more than just a friend–something beyond the occasional home repair project, wink wink.  For the record, that’s a negatory ghost rider.

Coupled male friends disappear because the widow has now disrupted the balance of power in the relationship world. We can no longer be friends because we were couple friends, and since one of us has rudely made it awkward by losing her spouse, the non-widowed female in the relationship unconsciously (or consciously) views us as a threat. So long dinners and double dates.  Now it’s just random text messages “checking in” with lame promises of getting together soon that we both know will never happen.

I know this doesn’t hold true for everyone.  I have retained a few couple friends that are secure enough in their relationships to keep me in their lives. I know other W’s that have had the exact opposite experience.  But since it’s a pretty common phenomenon, if it does happen to you my Dear W, just know you aren’t alone.

You Should Journal

From the minute we got the terminal cancer diagnosis, we were hustled into counseling.  Dan’s was different than mine. Mine should have been called “How To Become A Widow” counseling (totally vomit inducing since I hate that word), but one thing was constant.  Every session, every social worker, psychiatrist, and grief counselor all said the same thing…you should journal.  

I am VERY good at following instructions, so I did.  I wrote out everything I was too afraid to talk to Dan about.  And after he died I wrote out my pain. It was endless.  And horrific.  And sad.  And miserable.  And lonely.  One day I was complaining journaling how I missed being able to talk to him.  How I missed being able to share my thoughts, fears, and dreams with my best friend in the whole wide world. In that moment I decided to stop using my journal to log my misery, but to start talking to Dan.  I decided to write the same kind of letters I did when he was away on military training, and something crazy happened.

This promised coping mechanism finally started to help me start coping.  The tone of my journal entries changed.  Instead of focusing on how awful I felt, I was reminded that I WAS actually doing things.  I wasn’t as stuck as I thought I was. By writing to Dan as if he was still alive, I was slowly helping myself realize that I was still alive. The darkness was starting to fade.

Will that approach work for everyone?  Of course not…is there anything that works for everyone?  It’s working for me, so I’m sharing it with you, my lovely W’s. 

Dear Diary Dan, I miss you.

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