On the Other Side of Hard and Difficult

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This morning the universe emailed a reminder to me that all the hard and difficult things I’ve ever attempted was only hard and difficult before I began on it. There is so much truth to that. I can look back over the last two years at all the “hard things” I faced and tackled. I can accomplish the same things now with ease, because they were only hard before I first attempted them.

When I launched my first podcast, Widow Cast, over a year ago; it felt like a year at Harvard to learn how to record, how to sound edited, how to get it hosted and then get it uploaded to iTunes and Google. I had to create a podcast “cover” that the player services would all accept. I had to figure out what to talk about, how to convert the recording file to mp3, on and on.

Man, it was HARD to even think about! But once I tackled it and went through the steps, and then it was done and up on iTunes; I was amazed I did it – it wasn’t as hard as I expected and I was over the moon to have that podcast up! It was heaven!

Just under a year later, I launched my 3rd podcast and did it in one afternoon. BAM.

The thought of writing a book seemed insurmountable. I doubted I even had what it takes to write an entire book, let alone get it out in the world. Crazy hard. Right? Only before I began – because once I committed to it, my Kindle was up on Amazon and a bestseller before I knew it! Three months later, it is with a NYC publisher to be released as a paperback in bookstores and online sellers.

Whatever you are facing that feels hard and difficult is only so because of your thoughts around tackling it.

Once you BEGIN to move through the task, your brain will shift as you start to find evidence that it is not as hard as you thought.

Once it is done, your brain will know that it was doable and the next time you face hard and difficult, it will be far easier – more a walk in the park.

On the other side of “hard and difficult” is something AMAZING. Just be brave and walk on into it to find the other side. It is SO worth it.

CLICK TO LISTEN TO WIDOW CAST PODCAST

One Year After Scattering Ashes

bridgeHis friend, John, referred to the Esopus as Jim’s personal Ganges. So it was. He swam here every summer as a kid, and drove up to stay here many times as an adult, until I bought the house and we moved upstate. This is the old bridge in Mt. Tremper where he would swim all the way up River from his grandmother’s house.

Jim had always said when he was gone, I was to scatter his ashes off of this old bridge over the Esopus River. He was a New Yorker – raised in Queens and lived in New York City his entire life. But as a kid, he was sent every summer to stay with his grandmother in Mt. Tremper. The Esopus ran right behind his gran’s property and he would swim with his cousin, Jacky, up river to underneath this bridge. We scattered him there a year ago on his birthday, so the Esopus river could carry him back out to the Hudson River and down the state of New York back to his beloved New York City.

Yes, the bridge has been closed for years – and yes, it was a bit illegal to squeeze through the hole in the fence to go out on the bridge and scatter ashes over the side. But Jim would have loved the illicit nature of the whole thing. Today, I did not squeeze through and clamor over the rail.  I wove a bundle of Jim’s favorite flowers into the chain-link barrier on the bridge, then sat off on the side, overlooking the Esopus rushing out from under the bridge.  In my mind I could see two very small boys, swimming for all they were worth against that current to make it all the way to the bridge.  I laughed to myself – modern mothers would perish over the thought.  But back then, it was natural to let kids run free and try crazy stuff.  Jim never really stopped running free and trying crazy stuff.

Then I drove on into Phoenicia.  This was one of the first places Jim took me to when I moved to NYC.  He loved it up here and we would often drive up to stay a few days in Phoenicia by the Esopus.  Finally, California girl that I am, decided after a decade in New York City that I needed to see stars again and have a garden.  So I found a house to buy upstate, near the Hudson River and the Esopus.  So after saying, “Happy Birthday” to Jim on the bridge, I went into town to the restaurant that was a favorite breakfast spot of ours.  I always used to say, “One day we have to come later in the day so I can try a slice of their wood oven pizza.” Today I sat at the lunch counter and had a slice. Then walked through the town of Phoenicia, all the spots he loved to photograph. It was a little melancholy to look at the views and the spot on the street where I had snapped the last picture I ever took of Jim.  But I did fine the whole time until I got home again and walked in the door of my house.  Somehow it all “hit” as I walked in my side door into my kitchen and I sobbed.

My day-to-day life has shaped itself into my new normal – into who I am now.  But there are still moments that take me by surprise – moments of exquisite pain and sadness.  But they are also moments of pure, complete love.  It is because I so loved him that I still sometimes cry now – and that is a beautiful thing.

What Do You Wish You Knew Before Becoming Widowed?

stages of griefThis is a question I’ve been asking other widows – what is it you wish you knew?  The answers are varied and sometimes, even contradicting.  But that is how widowhood is.  As much as we all have in common, and trust me it is a LOT, we are also having a singularly unique experience of it.  Even as unique as it is, there is nothing like connecting with other widows.   Only another widow knows what this is.

One widow wrote to me:  “One of the things that I wish I’d known was that for every person that said *call me if you need anything* … really didn’t mean it. Several times I would call … and either I didn’t get a return call or was told that they were tied up and it would be a couple of weeks before they had some free time. Those calls were about leaking plumbing or needing to start a lawn mower … so, I understood that it was just easier to call a stranger, pay them and move on.”

That is a little opposite of what I found.   When I put out the word for what I needed, people responded.  Not all.  But if I could screw up the courage to blatantly say, “This is what I need,” people would respond.  But I surely do not discount her experience.  I’m sure many people say, “call me if you need anything” because that is the only thing they can think to say to you.  Which leads me to the next thing you wish you knew before becoming widowed.

People will shun you. At least some of them will. Fortunately not all. The reason some people will shun you is to protect themselves from the terrible feeling of not knowing what to say or because they cannot look into the face of their own mortality, or the mortality of their spouse. This is what you represent to them; the sudden realization it could be them. The very idea of facing someone who has just had someone die in their life is far too uncomfortable, so they simply turn away. They may not even be completely consciously aware of what they are doing. They make excuses to themselves. I was stunned at the number of people who just dropped me like a social hot potato. But it made those who did reach out to me all that much more dear to me. Nearly all of our friends who were Jim’s friends before we married completely dropped off the face of the earth. All but one. He phoned regularly to check in on me. These phone calls and emails were such a treasure – I tear up just thinking about it. So when others seems to slink away and disappear from your life, just know it not about you. It is their own pain. Treasure those who are there for you.

Probably the number one thing I would want to share with every new widow is that however you are feeling is fine. It is not normal – nothing is normal. There is NO normal for being widowed. So roll with whatever you feel and whatever you are thinking. Cry or can’t cry. Sit in a chair all day in a daze. It is all fine. Whatever you need to do. Whatever you need to feel. Scream and cry in anger. Sit in a corner and sob over the relationship you had shared. Or just plug along with life. All normal. All fine.

Another told me, “you will want to talk about the person that died.” Maybe even inappropriately so. You find yourself telling the cashier at the grocery store all about it. Then walk out to your car feeling like an idiot for babbling on like that to a stranger. It’s okay. Connect with someone who is willing to listen and let it all pour out – all the stories and memories. Let them know you need to talk about the one you just lost and need a willing listener. You can also write in a journal. Let it all pour out. It’s good for the soul.

You will misplace documents, misplace items, and not be able to remember which bill was paid. You’ll put the wrong check in the wrong envelop. Serious fog brain. Take it slow. Document most everything for yourself. Set reminders. Don’t think you have it covered. I got six months out and suddenly realized I had no idea where some things were in my house!

You will laugh at completely inappropriate and sometimes even morbid things. Gallows humor. If you find a friend in another widow, you can both sit on the sofa laughing until your sides split over something that a “non widow” would be shocked about. It’s fine. We widows share a very different view of life.

When you lose someone so dear and close to you – like having a leg and an arm chopped off; your eyes open to life like never before. Priorities snap into laser focus and you know what is important.

A widower told me, “Life goes on.” Quite simple and succinct. And so it does. Even when you are sitting in a daze, life goes on around you. Eventually you start to join back in on that life going on around you. It is fine. You will even laugh again. It might make you feel guilty. But know it is a joy to the one who passed. Being able to smile again and find joy is a tribute to the life you had shared together. Life goes on. Another widow wrote to me, “I was thinking that you will learn how to live with the pain, smile through the tears, and that you are stronger than what you give your self credit for.” All true. Life goes on.

Most importantly, know there are others out there you can connect with. The support of another widow or widows is the most amazing gift. So find your new tribe. Look to hospice groups. Look in your local community. Reach out. Even the funeral director at the funeral home might be able to assist in directing you to support.

So there you go. Laugh, cry, dance naked in your living room. It is all good.

 

Opening the Widow Blog

JournalSo, this all began as a private blog under “lock down” so that I could communicate with my husband after he passed away in the way we met:. In text, over the internet, over 20 years ago.  It was the birth of the internet really.  Back in 1991, posting a note to the internet was a black monitor screen and a little C: prompt.  We were posting notes in a “room” with about 18 other people, discussing philosophy and reality creation.  You could type out a note, send it to post and it would show up on the internet after anywhere from 30 minutes to a couple of hours later depending on the internet was running at that moment in time. There were no graphics, no sharing of photos unless you popped one into an envelop and posted it through the United States Postal Service.

Long story short, after a couple of years and developing very close relationships with my friends in the “room” on the internet, we all gathered in New York to meet up in the fall of 1993.  We had people from various walks of life and various geographic locations all meeting in one hotel.  It was amazing.  I walked into a room of people whom I had never met or even seen before, yet I felt like I intimately knew each and every one of them.  We had shared things with each other that we probably had not even shared with family.  It was my first experience of making close friends in cyberspace.

Over that weekend, I was surprised to find I felt an attraction to the oldest member of our group – a retired teacher from da Bronx.  Did I say long story, short? Okay, it was actually only a few months after that meet up that I moved to New York with Jim.  We continued to communicate with our internet family, and then even found and created new families of friends as the internet developed and rapidly grew after 1993.  Exciting times – like being a pioneer out there in cyberspace.  So you see, cyberspace was our original bond.  After over 20 years together, Jim died quite suddenly here at home and I found myself ringing in 2015 alone.  I missed confiding in Jim – we shared everything with each other.  In my anguish, I returned to the internet to write him a letter.   A few weeks later, I wrote to Jim again.  But stopped after that because I had begun to chat out loud with him and no longer felt the need to write.  But a few months later, I did feel moved to write my parents.  Hence “More Talking to Dead People.”

It has been in my heart to share with other widows because I know how difficult the journey back to yourself is.  I started out with a podcast, Widow Cast (which can be found in iTunes to download and listen).  But then I realized my very private letters in this secret blog needed to shared.  As personal as they are, they could possible help another who is grieving connect and not feel so alone.  So I have opened the doors on Widow Blog.  Scroll down to find the original entries to read.  I hope you find it of value – leave me a comment please.

More talking to dead people

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Dear Mom and Dad,
I started this as a way to “talk” to Jim after he passed on, but realized I could reach out to you two as well. Writing to dead people may become a habit.

Yesterday I started a visualization/meditation to create money in my life. I decided to visualize what I would be doing if I suddenly found myself with crazy money. Like 100s-of-millions crazy money. Oh, I set up trusts so Jim’s grown boys would never want, and of course a nice trust for Jenny and her new husband. Then I wanted to sit down with Jenn and Charles to let them know my finances had changed, and tell them we could get a house for them, and Jenn could quit working. Suddenly, I was driving all across the country to connect with people who had played a role in my life, for better or worse. I was thanking each one. Or forgiving. Or both – depending on the circumstances. I must have been lost in that revelry for a good 20 minutes before I opened my eyes.

On opening my eyes, I giggled at where my visualization for cash flow had wandered off to. Then I realized, I do not need millions of dollars to do exactly what I had visualized. Of course, I cannot exactly take off and drive across the country. But I can thank people, and (gulp) even forgive.

So today, I’m living like a millionaire – writing out thank you cards to people, some of whom I’ve not even seen for decades. It feels so wonderful to do this.

You are both on my list. Clearly I cannot mail a card to you, so here I am – blogging to the dead. I know that you were not raised to be openly demonstrative of love. You had four kids, little money, and did your very best for us. I want you to know that it never even occurred to me until much, much later in life that we were poor. It was just life to me as a kid to only get 1 pair of shoes a year and 1 new dress for school. Of course, as the years went by, you were doing better financially.

I know you loved me and showed me in the only ways you knew how. When I was fully grown and used to stop by lunch to “check in” with you each day, I made sure I hugged you when I came in. At first, I think it made you both a little uncomfortable, not being used to that. But I am so glad I hugged you both, every chance I got to do that without pushing you too far out of your comfort zone. Thank you for being the best parents you could possibly be, and for loving me.

You Are So Beautiful To Me

IMG_1256Dear Jim,

Finally this morning I could go back to the video link you emailed to me 2 days before you died.  Subject line was “To my Joann” and the link was Joe Cocker singing “You are so beautiful.”  Talk about a parting gift.  On Xmas day, you sent a link to all your friends of “I get by with a little help from my friends.”   These are things I will treasure.  Another last gift – among your “Barnes and Nobel social club” friends was that young girl, “the tragic damsel.”   She would share dreams, which fascinated you.  I know you loved picking apart the female psyche.  Recently when I met up with you for a coffee, you told me later that as I left, I walked by Christine who was sitting on the bench out front on the cell phone (talking to some life drama).  As I stood at the curb a moment to wait for cars to clear, you had both of us in your line of vision – me and a 24-year old beauty.  You later told me, “you looked spectacular next to a women 36 years younger – every bit as good.”  I laughed at you and just said, “I have stage presence.”  But I was very touched that you could compare me to a 20-something and find me just as attractive.   Old men in love are blind (smile).

It may sound so superficial – but it is what we want as women.  We want to be seen as attractive to our mate.  So you gave me that before leaving.  Then the plant downstairs I posted on Facebook about.  Truly – that plant was a dead as a plant could be.  I’ve seen dead plants sprout from the base before, but they still had moist soil.  This was a completely dried out root ball and the little branches are brittle.  Yet it has sprouting from the tops of dead branches.  I might not have thought too much about it, but for those two buds just sprouting right out of dead wood.  Not out of a sprouted branch – directly from dead wood.  This afternoon I’ll bring it up from the basement sink to see if those little buds will flower.  There is no doubt in my mind that this is from you.   Last year when I had roses of the month all year.  When December roses arrived and I said they were the last,  you thought it should have been arranged so I would still get one more bouquet on my birthday.  I told you that you could buy me that last bouquet.  Looks like you’ve managed to get birthday flowers to me after all.

These are the things I will hold close.  Oh, I still remember the slings and arrows that passed between us over the years – the annoyances and sometimes downright meanness.  That was all a part of our relationship.  But when I want to remember sweetness, it is these parting gifts that will come to my heart.

Almost Two Weeks

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Dear Jim,

It has been nearly 2 weeks since you died.  I am not even sure how that many days can have already gone past.  We talked about this day.  With your being 16 years older, it was understood between us that you would most likely be the first to pass and I would have a number of years without you.  That doesn’t make it easier.  You even told me not too many weeks ago that, “Jo, I’m going to die sometime – One of these times I faint to the floor, I’m not getting back up.”  That is exactly what happened.  I heard you hit the floor upstairs in the bathroom, where you had fainted before.  But this time was different.  This time as I reached the top of the stairs at a run, I knew – you were not breathing.  It was all so fast – 911 and EMS, a wonderful young police officer offering to take me to the ER, saying goodbye to you in the ER and returning home to realize you were gone – and it had been less than an hour ago we were just talking downstairs here.

Then I couldn’t feel.  I couldn’t think.  My psyche protected me right away by putting me in shock.  There is too much pain to have all at once.  Slowly the numbness and shock are lifting – letting in the pain just a little at a time as I can deal with it.  There is a huge hole in my day.  I miss you like crazy.

The entire financial aspect threw me in those first days – I was terrified.  Every phone call was horrible – no medical coverage past 12/31/14 – Discover Card just closed out the account without even letting me know.  But in the midst of it all, so many wonderful sweet people reaching out to me and helping me with words and wisdom.  Some of them I think you sent.  Then finally, I got the job offer letter from the company I had been talking to – the one that we waited each day to celebrate together.  I accepted the job and that evening, sat down by the fire with my dinner and glass of champagne.  That toast we were going to have together.   I think you were there – you knew I had this.  But I missed running to you to tell you when the offer came.  I missed the hug and shared happiness.

The first week, I was trying to go through your things and “take care of business” as I thought it would be expected.  It was hard.  I’m going slower now, realizing I have all the time I need to let go.  We will scatter your ashes as you requested so many times, outlining exactly where you wanted to be.  But for now, I am better having them here for a bit.  Last night I needed that – hugging the box of your ashes to my chest and letting all the love and grief encompass me.  It was like a warm energy blanket settling right into my inner being.

We met in written word, back in the new-born days of the internet – before there were browsers or pictures.  Just C: prompts and typed out words.  It is fitting that it is here, in text, that I say goodbye and journal my feelings.  It is here that I can still tell you what is in my heart.  We had an amazing 21+ years together – being together 24/7.   Something I realized soon after your passing was just how much you had taught me, brought out in me, and given me.  I cherish our time on the planet together every day and will continue to.  I love you.