The Wandering Widow

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



The Wandering Widow’s Grief Recovery Reading List

A Grief Recovery Project Post

As I was packing up my house and offloading most of my worldly possessions, I had the privilege of un-welcoming a new member to The W Club.  Since I couldn’t take them with me, I decided to give her the books that made the most impact on my grief recovery. As I was writing notes to her on how each one made a difference for me, I thought that others might like them too. All of these should be available through your local library if you don’t want to purchase them.

Books on grief and grieving are plentiful, just ask Amazon. Since I was already working with a phenomenal counselor, I found the books that helped me the most weren’t specifically grief related.  And they all came to me when I needed them most. Funny how that happens. Here are my Top 5, in the order they showed up in my life over the course of my first year of widowhood.

1. Carry On Warrior by Glennon Melton

Hi Lisa, Nowhere near what you are dealing with right now, but in my dark postpartum days I found a little light in some of this book. You are the definition of warrior my friend. Love you–E.

One of my besties sent this one to me when she knew I was struggling with talking about how I felt and in real danger of imploding.  Carry On Warrior encouraged me to become a Reckless Truth Teller.  An RTT keeps it real, forgoing the carefully curated image and social media profile. The idea is that we not only help ourselves, we help others by being REAL and authentic. The truth is, we have a lot of people in our lives who would like to help us, they just don’t know how. If we can’t share with them, they become just as helpless as we are. This book encouraged me to blog about my grief journey, in all its good and ugly bits, and not try to keep my grief to myself.

2. Broken Open by Elizabeth Lesser

“And the time came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.” –Anais Nin

Another sweet friend gave this one to me.  Have you heard of kintsugi or kintsukuroi? It’s the Japanese art of mending broken pottery with resin and gold to make it more beautiful than it was before. Broken Open encourages us to be accepting of what is, and allow ourselves to be okay with being broken. That by having been broken we are made stronger and more beautiful. This book resonated with me in a way none of the others did.  Every other page would find me exclaiming out loud, “Yes!”  I sobbed. I highlighted. I wrote notes in the margins. I fell in love with each quote Lesser included as if they were selected just for me. I realized that being broken open allowed me to grow and that our greatest tragedies can also be the catalyst for our most significant transformations.

3. When Things Fall Apart by Pema Chodron

“Only to the extent that we expose ourselves over and over to annihilation can that which is indestructible be found in us.”

I was struggling through the middle of an 8-week meditation challenge when this book showed up, a recommendation by another widow and I couldn’t wait to read it. This was the least emotional of the five books on this list, but the advice within was sound and incredibly helpful. The basic premise is that we create our pain and suffering through our expectations. That once we accept that death and suffering are inevitable parts of being alive, we can find true peace. It’s a bit dry, but I filtered all of that down to a very Buddhist version of Live Now.

4. Blessed Are The Weird by Jacob Nordby

“Lisa, this book is written by one of my close friends, and I think you will really enjoy it. It’s deep, it’s insightful, and I think you’ll find yourself nodding along throughout the book.” –M.

Another gift, this was intended to be inflight reading for my spring trip to Europe, but I didn’t get to it until after I was home. I started reading at a time when I was beginning to struggle to keep my newly rediscovered happiness, and questioning whether or not to continue blogging about my grief journey.  I’d been debating (or talking myself out of) starting a new creative project. Nordby’s passion and dedication to the creative weirdos inspired me to begin the new project and beg for a meeting. This book also started me down the path of walking away from everything I know in search of my Live Now adventure.

5. The Afterlife of Billy Fingers by Annie Kagan

“Keep listening for my voice, and always, always and forever remember my love.”

When Jacob Nordby, author of Blessed Are The Weird, and I met for coffee and a mutual sharing of our stories, he told me about this book. Jacob thought I’d like this one, and he was correct. Written by a woman who lost her older brother, this book chronicles her experiences of communicating with him as he shared his view of the afterlife. (FYI, I don’t care what your beliefs are, there is no room to tear apart someone else’s coping mechanisms). Since none of us has a way to travel there and report back, I found this book comforting and full of hope.   When you watch someone die a gruesome and violent death, the idea that the afterlife is peaceful is one that brings peace. And, as it appeared in my life close to the one-year deathiversary milestone, it also felt a little like Dan was saying the good-bye he wasn’t able to a year ago.

So there you have it, my Top 5 favorite grief journey books. If you have one, not on this list, I’d love to hear about it.

The Wandering Widow
Live Now. Dream Big. Love Fierce


You already know about my fondness for J.M. Storm’s writing. If his poems were songs, they would have been the soundtrack to the last year of my life. His book, In My Head was the only book to make the cut and make it in my suitcase for this adventure abroad.

Helping Your W Through Her First Valentine’s Day

Well there is just no good card for that. No one has figured out the right way to say, “Hey, I’m sorry the love of your life died and left you alone forever, but here’s a card to say I’m sending the very best. Happy V Day!”

So how do you reach out to the W in your life on this day where we are bombarded by messages of love and romance?  First, not everyone celebrates this day…the hubs and I didn’t, and neither did many of our friends.  But lots of people do, and this first red heart day can be yet another painful reminder of the void in our lives.  Even though we didn’t celebrate it, the constant stream of jewelry-chocolate-wine-dinner-romance commercials and Facebook couple surveys and public “Kissy Face I Love You’s” is enough to push me into the grumpies.

So how can you help your W on this potentially awkward day? That’s easy. Just like it has been from day one, let her know you’re thinking about her.  Be there if you can.  There are no excuses for geography–FaceTime or Tango are almost as good as being there in person, minus the hugs, wine and Oreos. If she wants to talk about Valentine’s past, listen.  If you’re hosting Galentines please invite her.  Don’t take it personally if she says no. And if she wants to be sad, let her.  This is just another stop on the path through grief.

The reason the hubs and I didn’t celebrate Valentine’s Day was we chose to celebrate Mom and Dad’s wedding anniversary instead. This day is doubly hard because it reminds us that we’ve lost the two most important men in our lives. Who knew we’d both become widows just months apart.

Fade to Gray

Since Metallica is pretty particular about their ownership rights (which, as rock gods, they should be), this isn’t titled Fade to Black.  And it’s not really about the black anyway, it’s about the gray. It’s amazing how color plays such a strong role in our feelings: green with envy;  got the blues; seeing red.  I was trying to explain to my sisters the other day what life has been like since Dan died. On that morning my entire universe faded to gray as if all color died with him. Don’t get me wrong, there are still days where I see spots of color.  There have even been a few days where I lived almost an entire day in color. But they have been overshadowed by the many more that faded to black or just hung out in gray. 

I think this is the part that makes people so uncomfortable with grief…the seemingly endless gray. Lighting a match will conquer the black. This is what we are trained to do.  In the blackness I will rally and bake you a f@#%ng casserole and do your laundry and mow the lawn.  But the gray…just hangs around like a bad fog.  How do we fix it?  How do we help the person stuck in the gray?  You don’t. I will repeat–YOU DON’T. All you can do is be there and bear witness to their pain.  Don’t tell them to go to grief counseling.  Don’t tell them to choose happy.  Your well-intended advice ends up telling the grieving widow who is in survival mode that she isn’t good enough.  That she isn’t trying hard enough.  That on top of everything else she’s suffering she has now earned your disappointment and she is making YOU uncomfortable. As if it were about you.  Don’t tell her ANYTHING except that you are proud of her.  That’s right.  Proud.  Try it.  I’m proud of you for getting out of bed today.  I’m proud of you for putting on fresh pjs.  I’m proud of you for leaving the house. I’m proud of you for choosing to continue breathing when everything in your soul is convincing you that you died that day too.  Proud. 

Gray is hard. Gray is slow. Gray is heavy.  And gray is very lonely.  Don’t let her be alone in the gray.

Gloomy rainy days from my window mirror my mood.

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