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"I know not how, but as I count the beads of former years, old laughter catches in my throat with the very feel of tears."
     - Robert Louis Stevenson

Reader Mail

"The article about laughter during times of intense grief especially hit home. When my father died we ‘kids’ were all together again after several years apart, and it just happened that he was buried on my 30th birthday. The stories and jokes were sad and worn, but those family stories helped us get through that terrible day and made our partings the next morning bearable. That was possibly the best birthday party I've ever had." - Kym in California

"I'm so glad to know that you will be blazing a trail for those of us who will follow you in widowhood. Your website has been a special place I go periodically for nourishment. I so admire your outreach both in matters of business and your personal journey; thank you for sharing so freely. Please know that there are many of us out in ‘space’ who are cheering you on and who are eager to hear of your progress. Thanks for your courage and your readiness to share. You are a light in a dark world. God bless you!"  - Janet Garman

"How lovely it's been this evening taking a break from my work and finding your most comforting website about this new word in my vocabulary—widow. I did a bit of research, typing in ‘widows moving on.’ Wanted something positive, and I found you! How brave and generous of you, Barbara, to share your wisdom and experience as a new widow yourself. It's obvious you and your dear Harry had a lovely life together. My heart goes out to you." - Cappy in Arizona

 

"There is no time limit on grief . . . Strictly speaking, one never ‘gets over’ a serious loss. One learns to cope, one learns to integrate that loss into a larger meaning, but one does not forget."
- Michael Holmes, RN, author of Crossing the Creek

What's For Dinner?

How Harry loved to eat! "What’s for dinner?" he’d asked every day at lunch time. He always wanted to know in advance what he was having for dinner so he could get his taste buds set for what was to come. And heaven help me if I dared to change the menu after I’d announced it!

"How about some beef and tomato gravy with bread dumplings?" I might suggest. No matter what I offered, he was happy with it, and might smack his lips and say, "Sounds good . . .but could you throw in some chocolate pudding for dessert?" 

I loved to cook for Harry because he was such an appreciative eater, but there is no joy in cooking for myself now. It’s merely something I do to avoid having to eat processed foods all the time.

2012 UPDATE: I think it's important to update the above comment. It took only a few months for me to realize I didn't want to eat TV dinners all the time, and one day I found myself thinking that if Harry was worth cooking for, then I was also worth cooking for. And from that day forward, I began to cook things for myself that I'd always loved.

In year two of my widow's walk, I suddenly realized that cooking had once again become a joyful experience, something to look forward to after a hard day's work in my office, and I soon began to invite friends for lunch or dinner, cooking everything "from scratch" as I'd always done for Harry (not only healthier, but much tastier).

As for the Czech recipes that Harry loved so much that I figured I'd never make again, I now make them for Kirk Svihla, a dear young man of Czech descent that God put in my life a couple of years after Harry died when I was looking for some help with the house and yard. We had no idea then what a blessing we would be to one another. Today Kirk is like a son to me.

In the last three years as he and I have worked on completely landscaping my yard and creating several perennial gardens, we've had lots of laughter and many meaningful conversations about life as we've shared our Christian faith.

I was amazed to learn that Kirk loved all the same music and foods Harry loved and that he was a good cook himself. So now we often cook together and I make some of Harry's favorite recipes for him and he brings me some of his homemade soups and desserts. Baking Christmas cookies  together is now a tradition with us, and one year, just as Harry and I used to do, we canned tomatoes and peaches together.

To all you new widows out there, never doubt for a moment that God not only has a plan for the rest of your life, but many surprises as well.

The Thoughts and Advice of a New Widow

One Year Into the Journey

Third in a Series of Articles for Widows and Others Who Have Lost, or May Be About to Lose, Someone They Love

February 3, 2006

by Barbara Brabec

FEBRUARY 3 MARKED the first anniversary of my husband’s death and the end of my first year as a widow. I’ve come a long way in my journey since my last report (July 2005), and I’ve finally reached a point where I’m beginning to feel "normal" again and ready to meet the new life and business challenges that lie ahead.

Although I did some business writing, editing, and consulting last year, I had no real heart for this work nor any idea of just how difficult it would be for me to get myself back into what I consider "normal work mode." This was surprising to me because my work has always been so important to me and the thing I’ve always used as an escape mechanism in difficult times. But after Harry died, it was as if none of what I used to do was important any longer.

In discussing this with Darlene, a widowed business friend, she said she knew exactly how I felt.

"After my husband Bob died, I had a horrible time trying to concentrate on anything or get motivated to do anything beyond going through Bob's things." One eventually gets beyond that obsession, but it takes a while and it's certainly not easy. Everything to do with ‘work’ seemed to be so meaningless to me. I found everything and everyone kept moving right along like nothing had ever happened, while my world had come to a crashing halt. After I first came back to work, I had to absolutely force myself to stay at the office and to try to concentrate. Some days just the act of getting out of bed and into the office was all I could manage and I had to consider it a successful day. Slowly, I got some of my focus back but it took a quite a while. One thing I have learned from the experience is that what I had previously considered important, work-wise, wasn't."

Shifting Priorities

I related strongly to Darlene’s final comment in the above message: "After you lose your spouse," she added, "your priorities shift, and, in the long run, I don't think that’s a bad thing."

My priorities certainly shifted after Harry died. I recall the day one of his friends remarked that I seemed to be in a "Harry frenzy," and I guess I was. For several months, I literally felt obsessed by the need to bring together all of his voice audio tapes, his professional recordings, his letters, scrapbooks, photographs, and personal possessions. Then I spent countless hours going through his thousands of LPs, CDs, tapes, and books, pondering what I was going to do with all these things that had been so important to him, but not nearly as important to me. I see now that I was not only making work for myself to avoid my real work, but also trying to hang on to my husband the only way I knew how at the time. My "frenzy" gradually evolved into a kind of quiet determination to do everything I could to honor and memorialize Harry's life and accomplishments and, by the end of 2005, I finally felt I had accomplished that personal goal.

My last big "Harry Project," which took three months to finish, was the dubbing of over a hundred CDs of several of his voice tapes and professional recordings that I gave to family and friends for Christmas. I wanted the people who loved Harry most to have a special keepsake to remind them of his exceptional musical ability, but in doing this work, I found I was also giving myself a very special Christmas gift.

First, I gained new graphic arts and computer skills as I learned how to design all the jacket covers and CD labels. Then, in burning all those CDs, I began to envision a line of original CDs I could produce for sale on my website, thoughts that helped me get back into a business mindset. As I scanned favorite photos of Harry for jacket covers and labels, and dug through his letters and scrapbooks for information I could use in writing album inserts, I naturally shed some tears as I dredged up more memories of the past. But I also felt an enormous peace while doing this work and often felt that Harry was there in spirit, urging me on. All in all, this was a very healing time for me.

Crossing the Creek

The healing process takes its own time, and the grieving journey is different for everyone, both in intensity and duration. If you or someone you know is trying now to accept the inevitability of losing someone they love, I would recommend they read Crossing the Creek, by Michael Holmes. The Hospice social worker gave me a copy of this document when I brought Harry home from the nursing home. (See note below.)

Although this was a very hard piece of writing to get through, I found it to be an incredible emotional help to me. What it did was enable me to fully understand what Harry was experiencing physically as he lay dying, and what I needed to do (or not do) in response; also what he may have been feeling when he could not express those feelings verbally. This document also prepared me emotionally to accept the inevitability of his death, to know exactly when it was likely to come, and to understand the grieving process that lay ahead of me. A couple of sentences at the end of this document may have been what prompted me to begin work on Harry's Web pages only four days after his death:

"As we move through feelings of isolation, we can expect to feel a need to reconnect with other humans. A time-honored way of accomplishing this is to share our story."

*NOTE:  I can no longer find the author's website. and used copies of this book on Amazon are now priced at $174, so I suggest you do a Web search to see if you can turn up a copy of it somewhere.)

ANOTHER ARTICLE I read said that one of the best ways to ease an aching heart is to commemorate the memory of a loved one. I now believe that my intense focus on documenting and celebrating Harry's life and accomplishments immediately after his death and throughout my first year without him, made a great difference in my ability to be content, even joyful, as I began to move forward in life as a widow. This alone, however, would not have done the trick. For me, it was also my strong faith in God, an acceptance of His plan for both my life and Harry’s, as well as the emotional support I received from my personal and business network of friends. I will forever be grateful to everyone who ever sent me a sympathetic note of consolation or a word of encouragement during Harry’s long illness and especially after his death.

Hard Moments

I don’t know how long it takes to get past the point where you cry at the drop of a hat, but I’m not there yet. As all who have lost loved ones know, grief sneaks up on little cat feet when you least expect it, and the tears can come suddenly, without warning. I still cry when a comment in a movie or the words in a song trigger a nostalgic memory of Harry and I together. I also cried the day I stopped at a Hallmark store to buy a wedding card for my niece. Reading all those verses about the joy of being married and how important it was to "treasure the moment" brought painful tears of remembrance and loss.

Even something as mundane as food can bring tears if you happen to have been married to a man like Harry who loved good food as much as he loved good music. For months after he was gone, I had a hard time just shopping for groceries, because everywhere I looked I saw food items that I had always kept in stock just for Harry . . . like Oreo cookies, his favorite candy bars, corned beef hash, or the Peppermint and Gingerbread ice cream that he looked forward to every year at Christmas. For awhile, just looking at these items on a shelf brought tears. Even now, when I buy something for myself that Harry really loved, eating it alone makes me sad.

One of my hardest moments came last fall when I finally decided to refile all the recipe cards I had temporarily tucked in the front of my long recipe card drawer. Through the years, I had tucked hundreds of Harry’s favorite recipes here, and when I looked at those unfiled cards that day, I suddenly realized they were all the dishes I had made for Harry at the end of his life. Although I couldn’t bring myself to throw the recipes away, I doubt I’ll ever fix most of them again because there’s no one around to appreciate them the way he did. (See "What's For Dinner" at left.)

The paperwork related to a loved one’s death automatically sets a widow up for some hard moments. Cappy had been a widow for only a month when she found my website and began an email exchange with me (see left). I could feel her pain as she later shared one of her hardest moments with me:

"The reality of my husband’s death really hit home the day I went to the bank to make a deposit and take care of the travelers checks Jim had tucked away in his sock drawer," she wrote. "To redeem them, all I had to do was bring them to the bank with his death certificate. All went well until it came time to sign them. No problem with that until I also had to write 'Deceased' on the top of each check. That tugged at my heart with a heaviness that came over me dramatically—writing that word also brought the reality even closer."

Cappy’s story reminded me of the day I had to fill out a new beneficiary form for my IRA to remove Harry's name. The form I got said to check one of two boxes: married or unmarried. I called the company and said I was a widow and neither box seemed appropriate to me. "But if you're a widow, then you're unmarried," the woman said sympathetically. "But I don't feel unmarried," I said as I broke into a sob. In fact, I don’t think I’ll ever feel unmarried. I think now that I didn’t marry Harry "till death do us part," but for life—my life.

What I’m feeling mostly now, a year into my journey, is a terrible yearning to go back in time and once again experience the feeling of being held and kissed and loved by the only man who ever knew my heart. It's very hard for me to be around other loving couples, especially when they are hugging or kissing one another. It's not envy, exactly, but certainly an emotional pain I will have to deal with for a long time, and I'm sure other widows understand exactly how I feel. I might add that I've suddenly gained new perspective on how sad and empty life must seem to those men and women who have never had a lasting love of their own.

Darlene shared part of an encouraging email a friend had sent to her near the first anniversary of her husband’s death, saying how much it had helped her and how her friend had totally captured what the healing process involves:

"If people haven't experienced this, they don't get it. Sometimes you feel so calm and together, and then other days you feel consumed by sadness, like you're never going to get a handle on these feelings. You have to live with that emptiness every day, while it seems like other people are going along as if nothing has happened, but your world just fell apart. They'll say, ‘Oh yes, but it's been a year now. Time heals.’ Well, time softens things. But at the moment you're feeling that pain, it's real pain, and it really hurts, no matter how much time has gone by. Pain doesn't go by a stopwatch. And it's painful and hard work trying to staple and scotch tape your life back together."


to page 2 of this article, "Writing as Therapy"

Back to Widow's Series T/C

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