April 2020

Reconciling with Gratitude: The Pandemic Edition

Woman hiking in beautiful water setting.
A socially distanced hike a few days ago. Pretty hard not to feel grateful in that setting.

My goal for this time: to reconcile with gratitude.

I used to be good with it. When George died at age fifty-three, I was grateful for the years we had together. And I was grateful for the relative security he left me with. Having just seen him die of cancer, I was grateful for my own heath. I just wasn’t okay with other people telling me I should be, especially people who still had live spouses. It’s pretty dicey to tell another person how they should feel.

It Doesn’t Work to Tell Someone They Should be Grateful.

When my mom died when I was ten, my dad said something extremely useful: he said it was okay to feel however I really felt. (But I still had to get my math homework done). I’ve always been grateful for having an awesome dad (even if he did leave articles on date rape on my bed when I was in college). I didn’t like being a lawyer (I quit practicing many years ago), but I was grateful for the opportunity to be one.

But after being alone for years, my stores of gratitude eroded. For petty reasons, like no real writing prospects, Facebook posts showing couples at dinner parties hashtagged #husband best friend, and men who thought they knew what was wrong with me (It’s called self-esteem and it’s a virtue. See being raised by an awesome dad above).

There was the fifty-fourth birthday party I threw for myself when twenty people said they were coming but most of them cancelled the day before or the day of and I was down to four guests and a large order for artisanal pizzas I couldn’t cancel. Other indignities followed. I could be grateful despite losing my husband, but I couldn’t stay that way.

Gratitude seemed like a requirement to find pleasure in adversity. Like in Candide where Pangloss keeps saying, “everything happens for the best in the best of all possible worlds” while he disregards reality. And my sixth grade teacher who knew about my mom dying and suggested I emulate Pollyanna. Uh no, and please stick to grading vocabulary tests.

And yet, in These Times, I’m Finding Gratitude to be a Necessity.

I’m not enjoying hunkering down with myself. I’m too bitter and it’s been a battle not to slide into negativity. Which looks like pizza, pinot and Hulu during the daylight hours.

I have been grateful recently. For the chance to teach a writing class, and the smart, interesting students I had, and for getting to go to graduate school (I’m in my last semester of an MFA). Most of all, I’m grateful for finding my second love after years of searching and not giving up. We’ve created a store of great memories to fall back on. I didn’t want my most lasting memories to be of caring for my dying husband.

But then there’s the rest of it. Like the fact that I was trying to generate interest in my manuscript before the world shut down. And before that, it felt like every Facebook post I read was about someone else getting a book deal. Like they went to go buy feminine hygiene products, and there was a super agent standing in the same aisle waiting to chat! And my real fear: their work is just better than mine. I obsess the MFA will lead to exactly nothing.

Since turning 56, my metabolism has embraced its inner snail and every time I’m about to take a bite of anything yummy, I say to myself “a minute on the lips, etc.” Which doesn’t really work when you spend your days in sweat pants. And are soon be a person with an MFA who spends her days in sweat pants communing with Hulu.

Daisies from my walk. Just one more reason to be grateful. Sigh.

I’m Still Searching for Solutions

My best idea so far is to try to be grateful whatever the results. I get to go to school. And be in love. And walk through daisies (see photo above). George died seven years ago last Friday. I guess that’s part of what I wanted to tell you today. And I’m far happier than I thought I’d be two years ago. And yet it’s hard to let go of bitterness. The men I wish I’d spoken my mind to, the ones from whom I’m still waiting for apologies. (Not ever).

I’m curious, can happiness or at least equilibrium, be a choice? We cannot control outcomes, only efforts. I just have to keep repeating it. And choosing to be grateful.

Reconciling with Gratitude: The Pandemic Edition2021-01-08T19:06:52+00:00

December 2016

Getting through Grief with Humor, Honesty and Time


Painting to recover from grief

My painting from a writing and painting workshop I went to

I’m taking an online blogging class.  My assignment: a post on why I blog. This is who I am.  I just updated it because in the three and a half years since George died, I’m not nearly as lost, although I’m more curmudgeonly.  Ever have a lawyer who’s supposed to be helping you with probate text you after hours to ask if you want to talk dirty?  Or date some idiot who comments that keeping your husband’s awesome stereo system shows that you have a problem letting go?

And that’s why I write.  Because life without George is so darkly funny.  And absurd.  And it used to make me so mad.  So much writing about loss implies a gravitas:  We lose our loved ones and settle into serenity, content to live with our memories, quietly grateful for our years together,  perhaps now directing our efforts to knitting scarves for impoverished arctic seals.

My late husband and I in the 90's at a party

George and I at a firm party in the 90’s

But that’s not reality.  We’re angry.  (I still haven’t replaced all the wine glasses I broke).   Or we’re unbearably lonely.  Or self-destructive.  I suffered from lasting caregiver guilt over George’s final months.  I was unable to care for him properly and he was in denial, making it impossible to reach our for help.  I started blogging because of the disparity between what grief looks like in books and what it really feels like.  I read On Grief and Grieving…some of it made sense, but  some of it was so removed from reality.   (Don’t drink!  Don’t have sex! Just sit there!)

The worst is the unbearable loneliness.  And the shame that comes from being so lonely or unable to snap out of grieving.  People told me “Just get out there!” when I told them I was a widow with few connections. Offer to listen, extend a simple invitation…but don’t be sickeningly glib.  So, I started writing to say, please don’t ashamed that you’re lonely or you can’t get out of bed today or that the azaleas your husband planted that started blooming today made you cry in the grocery store.

Recovering from grief is so personal.  I don’t know that all of us recover to be as  “happy” as before our loved ones died.  But feeling ashamed about our grief and resulting loneliness or immobility just makes it worse.   So that’s why I’m writing to say:  It’s okay if you feel terrible.  Things are hilarious at times.  Sometimes, you need the cheesecake and Woody Allen movies,

I’ve had some recovery.  I can enjoy travel or reading or even my crazy boyfriend, sometimes.  A dear friend who is a recent widow said that she finds hearing about progress encouraging.  And  better, I can embrace gratitude and letting go of old resentments (probably my next post).

Let’s go through this journey together.

Love, Debbie


Getting through Grief with Humor, Honesty and Time2016-12-14T19:46:51+00:00

Surviving the Loss of a Loved One in Elephant Journal


My elephant journal article

My article!

Dear Blog Friends,

I’m thrilled to be in Elephant Journal with my article “Surviving the Holidays After the Death of a Loved One.”  Here’s the start:  “Since my husband George died in 2013, I get really depressed over the holidays. With him gone and having little family myself, things don’t look how they’re supposed to…”. The rest of it is here.

Please check it out.  Disclaimer:  this is a professionally edited, greatly improved version of my latest blog post.  But it’s a lot more helpful and relatable than the first one with more anecdotes and  no generalities.   For my writer friends, it is so interesting to see what an editor will change in our writing!

I would so appreciate views on this by your clicking on the link to the article!  (If I get enough views, it becomes easier to be on their site again).  Please share it with anyone you think it might resonate with.

This is such a hard time of year for those of us who’ve lost our spouses or other loved ones.  I get teary remembering the traditions that George and I had.  Hell, I get teary taking out the garbage (formerly George’s chore) alone on a Sunday night this time of year.  Other times of year, I’m much better about it.  It’s like much of my recovery just sort of ebbs away.

Is it like that for you too?

If you want to chat about this holiday malaise stuff, please  comment here or on the Elephant Journal site.  On some posts, people have offered such thoughtful, heartwarming comments that really helped others.  And please, check it out on Elephant Journal.






Surviving the Loss of a Loved One in Elephant Journal2016-12-07T18:41:43+00:00
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