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My husband’s death from adrenal cancer when I was 33 is my lemon. My book, “A Widow’s Guide to Healing” is my lemonade.
C.S. Lewis wrote “We read to know that we are not alone”, and this rings true to me. I know first- hand how lonely and frightening grief can leave someone. I was 33 in 2007 when my husband, Roy, died from advanced adrenal cancer nearly eight weeks after being diagnosed with bronchitis at his family doctor’s office. Although, I have a graduate degree in clinical social work, nothing prepared me for his death.
After Roy’s funeral, I read nearly every academic journal article, book or magazine piece about grief and loss that I could get my hands on. The piece didn’t have to be specific to the loss of a spouse because I was curious about how people in general coped with the death. For about three years, I searched and searched for stories about how widows transformed their loss. And I couldn’t find anything that had the collective stories of widows.
When a death occurs many things unfold and the rawness of vulnerability that grief presents to one can create an intense feeling of isolation. One feels and understands that they are in unchartered territory. Knowing that I must not be alone in feeling this type of isolation, I decided that I would interview as many widows as possible and share their narratives with others. I wanted readers to see how other widows coped and hopefully develop a connection with at least one widow even if it was only on the page.
I spent over three years embarking on this research journey. And the widows were incredibly generous with their time. Some of the widows lost their husbands to suicide, others to substance abuse, 9/11 and other horrific tragedies. They too had the intent of wanting to help others and were more than willing to provide their stories. After the unthinkable happened, many of these widows bravely transformed their lives. The intent of my work was to be able to share the narratives of other widows so that a widow would be able to find herself in one of these stories and hopefully feel less alone.
Since this book project evolved over years, I was able to stay in contact with some of the widows. It has been rewarding to see how their journeys developed as well. Some of the widows have since gotten married and had children. One widow, age 70 (at the time) told me shortly after her husband’s death that she would never find another “love of her life”. A few weeks ago she emailed me and said that she is dating a beautiful gentleman.
My own journey has shifted a bit as well. After I submitted the manuscript to my book editor, I decided that I wanted to expand my reach and learn how widows across the globe live on less than a dollar a day. Last year, I had the opportunity to travel to a slum called Kibera, which is in Kenya. This is the largest slum in Africa and many officials rank it as one of the worst slums because of the violence, their lack of running water, few have electricity and most residents live in a 12 x 12 shack with a dirt floor with several other family members. Unfortunately, this is home to many widows as well. It is here in Kenya that I was able to meet with some widows and got to know a few widows quite well. There is one widow, who is mother to three young children that I will never forget. She taught me about unbounded gratitude and it is because of her that I will continue my commitment to helping widows on a global platform.
One of the things that really helped me transform my grief was gratitude. Before my late husband, Roy, and I were married in 2003, we began to exchange gratitude lists. This is long before gratitude was a trending topic. Shortly after we were told that the cancer was advanced we were actually sitting in the hospital and Roy said that we needed to begin the gratitude lists once again.
A few weeks after he died, I remember getting the notebook out where I had been writing our gratitude lists together and continuing the practice, this time on my own. Roy taught me that gratitude is the answer to every question. Grief constricts and gratitude opens one up. In this open space
is where I began to heal and continue to do so. Gratitude became the foundation for which I have been able to do many things post lost and it is the lens through which I continue to see everything.
There is no finish line for grief. As I spoke with each widow in doing my research memories from the past would surface. Invariably the widows would end up encouraging me and telling me what a much needed book this will be for many. Their words of support helped and inspired me to continue
whenever I thought about giving up. This beautiful tribe of women uplifted and supported me throughout the process of writing my book.