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Interview with Kristin Meekhof

Kristin Meekhof was interviewed by Super fab magazine and talks about the physical effects of grief in general and then discusses how her own lost impacted her health. Interview is in this link.

Can you die of a broken heart? At first, this might sound like a song title or dramatic story line. In actuality, there is such a thing as broken heart syndrome and author Kristin Meekhof knows it all too well. [Read More]

Featured in Grand Rapids Magazine, August 2014

Helping Widows Cope-

Kristin Meekhof was 33 when her husband, Roy, died in 2007, eight weeks after his diagnosis of cancer.

She expected the grief and the loneliness. But the young widow wasn’t prepared for the huge medical bills that began arriving shortly after the funeral.

“Even though we had the Cadillac of insurance policies, I had to appeal items that were denied,” said Meekhof, a Grand Rapids native now living in Oakland County.

“At one point I was told I couldn’t do something without my husband’s signature. It was very overwhelming.”

The worst part was the constant reminder of Roy’s illness.

“The documents force you to relive each procedure.”

Realizing other widows face the same issues, Meekhof decided to write “Just Widowed,” a book offering women practical advice as well as hope and inspiration.

“Women can learn from each other. Loss of a spouse is not the end of their lives.”

The project started very grass roots, explained Meekhof, a licensed social worker who majored in psychology at Kalamazoo College and completed the clinical Master in Social Work program at University of Michigan.

She reached out through social media and wrote about her own experience in a blog for The Huffington Post.

“People, not just widows, connected with it and wrote to me, she said. They said they found it helpful.”

As Meekhof interviewed dozens of widows, she learned that finances often were the No.1 concern for women who lost a spouse. “A lot of widows say they stop opening their mail.”

She was surprised to discover many women say they lost support from friends and acquaintances. “A few weeks after the funeral, they were left hanging.”

Women also talked about deep loneliness and lingering depression, and it didn’t seem to matter how long they’d been married or the type of relationship,” she said.

But perhaps most disconcerting, she said, were the women who told Meekhof they felt relief.

“Some widows were embarrassed to admit it, but they would say the marriage had not been good and they didn’t know how to get out of it.”

Meekhof and co-author Jim Windell, a psychologist and friend of her late husband, also write about widows who’ve turned their loss into something inspiring. In June, the authors were in the final stages of proofing the manuscript before publication.

In the meantime, Meekhof is working to bring awareness of adrenal cancer research at the University of  Michigan. She’s also traveled to Kenya to visit an organization that helps widows and children.

Follow Kristin Meekhof on her journey at kristinmeekhof.com or on Facebook. -by Marty Primeau

A Widow’s Grief

In the process of writing my book, I’ve interviewed dozens of widows about their grief and loss. Eventually, I started getting emails and phone calls from others who experienced a different type of loss. The thing about grief is that others can relate to this universal feeling of despair because nearly everyone has experienced a significant loss. Others shared with me a lament for their child, sister, mother or close friend. When it was possible, I would meet someone for coffee and would intently listen to their story. They would share their story, and then ask about my late husband.

Over time, I noticed in talking with others that I met, that many posed a similar question. It didn’t matter the age of the person I was talking with, when they experienced their loss, what type of circumstances the loss happened under, or their current marital status. The question that I am most frequently asked was this: How do you trust in God after your husband died? I don’t think anyone was looking for a sophisticated theological explanation, but more of a wondering of how it is possible to believe in something. My answer is always hesitant because there are days when I’m not sure how or why I continue to believe. Sometimes, I stumble and people catch my awkward pause. This is how I explain my faith. I believe despite great suffering and darkness that love, coming from God, is what transcends death.

I am aware that this answer is not satisfactory to most people. Some people have shared with me a story about their spouse’s suicide or child’s accidental overdose. I know that they feel abandoned by God and cheated by life. I have no answers.

I continue to believe in God despite hearing these horrible and tragic stories. I believe that compassion comes from finding love among our deepest wounds. It is this compassion, which allows all of us to console each other. I know that it is in this place where we communicate our deepest love.

Shortly after my husband was diagnosed with terminal cancer, I talked with my husband about my disappointment in God. I was fragile and vulnerable. There always seemed to be a lump in my throat and a tear in the corner of my eye. I told my husband, “I just don’t get it. Why?” My husband, without missing a beat, answered, “You are asking the wrong question. Instead of asking, ‘why us’, you should be asking, ‘why not us’?”

The One Hundred Gala

Each year the cancer center at Massachutes General Hospital honors one hundred cancer heroes at their signature event – the one hundred gala. These heros and heroines include nurses, doctors, researchers, advocates, patients, and children. These individuals are nominated for bringing a bright light on cancer research, treatment, advocacy, or fundraising. Next month, Dr. Gary Hammer will be one of those honored. Dr. Hammer is an adrenal cancer specialist, and my late husband had this type of cancer. I am honored to be included in a write up you can read here.

The One Hundred is near and dear to my heart. I heard about it because of breast cancer patient Ann Murray Paige. Last year she brought down the house with her keynote speech.

I also had the privledge of talking with Ann, and wrote about her here.

It was heartbreaking for me to find out that this beloved mother of two young children and wife died earlier this year. We had plans to meet in person on July 4 in a small Maine town that we both had visited several times before but were not aware of each other’s presence.

Ann Murray’s bright light will still shine at next week’s Massachusetts General event.

Stay connected with Kristin and her journey!

Someone to Lean On

In 2007, my beloved husband died from adrenal cancer. He was asymptomatic, and there was little warning before his death that he was gravely ill. I was 33 then, and we had no children together. After he died I was truly alone. My center of gravity was grief. Shifting that center was important to me and seemed critical, so I sought out a widows’ support group. I thought this type of social support would help with the healing process. Truth be told, I sought out more than one support group, but I’m only writing about one of those experiences.

I remember walking into the basement of an old church and seeing about 10 chairs formed in a circle. I walked past the room and made a bee line for the bathroom. I was nervous, and wanted to dodge any small talk. Thankfully, after I exited the bathroom, the room seemed to fill. Within minutes, we were all seated and began to share our stories of how we became widowed. I heard about types of unbelievable death-inducing illnesses, diseases, and accidents. Most of the stories were so unique, the student in me wanted to take out a pen and jot each story down.

As the hour progressed, words like hope, grief, sorrow danced on the lips of these widows like it was their native tongue. Honestly, I couldn’t tell if they believed anything of what they were saying, but I listened. At one point in the discussion, a senior-aged widow sitting next to me reflected on the difficulty her adult daughter was having with their family’s sudden death. The widow was concerned that her daughter may have to leave the Ivy League school she was attending and move back home. I mumbled, “That’s tough.” The widow turned to me and stated, “Well, you’re too young to know about this.”

While holding back tears, I gritted my teeth and began to count slowly to 10. I wanted to interject that I was nearly 5 when my father died from cancer. I was fairly certain that his death and now my husband’s death secured for me a tenure status in the department of grief. I was seeking compassion and support, and suddenly all I wanted to do was escape. I actually began to plan my exit strategy long after this woman stopped her lament. Of course, my planning ended when I realized there was only one door.

I’m not against support groups, and I recognize their importance. However, my grief was darkened by this experience. I felt more lonely in that group than I did sitting home alone.

Last month over dinner, I was sharing this experience with a friend who actually facilitates support groups of a different nature. She was looking for honest insight into group dynamics. She asked me what would have made a difference. I said, “We all walked out to the parking lot together. If one woman, would have reached out, I think I would have returned.” Then I paused and added, “Actually, maybe I wasn’t ready for the group.”

Grief uniquely impacts each person. Listening to yourself and respecting where you are at with your journey is important. Grief is complex, and no two situations are the same. While we may seek compassion from others it is critical that we are first compassionate with ourselves. Give yourself grace.

You can also read this article on the Huffington Post

The Widow’s Guilt

When I started to write an upcoming book for widows with my co- author James Windell, I didn’t know quite what to expect. Sure, I was a young widow and talked about my own experience here but I hadn’t reached out to other widows. I quickly learned that no widow’s loss is exactly the same.

Nearly every day, you can read online about a tragedy in which a wife becomes a widow. You can see the look of despair on her face and sense the loss. When I talk with women who are recently widowed, one of the first things I’m asked is, “How did you get through it?” I have experienced this intense rawness that a new widow feels. I remember feeling like my world ended, desperate to find the one thing that would take away the hurt. The real problem is that there is no magic cure for grief.

I know the days following the funeral for widows are depressing. After my husband’s death, I remember coming home after work to complete silence. We had no children together, so there was no one to distract me. Those months following his death were in the midst of a Michigan winter. This meant it was dark by 6 p.m. and cold. Curled up with a blanket on the couch, I had the fantasy that I would quit my job, move to Hawaii and walk on the beach. It was, of course, just a fantasy. The cold reality was that I needed a job with health care benefits.

Nearly all of the widows James and I talked with report similar emotions: fear, anxiety, shock, loneliness, sadness and depression. There is no question that there are many challenges widows face, but the first challenge will relate to experiencing and coping with emotions. We also found that there is a difference in some of the emotional reactions based on how the husband died.

Widows whose husbands died as a result of substance abuse or an illness related to this also reported feeling guilt and shame. It is difficult because the widow often saw their spouse’s life deteriorate in a downward spiral. The widows often remarked that they tried various interventions throughout the marriage, only to feel, deep down, that their spouse lacked willpower to quit. The widows covered for his use, made excuses to others, and worst of all lied to herself.

When the widows discussed the cause of their husband’s death with others, they said they would often see a look in other’s eye that said, “What did you expect”? Sometimes, others had nothing positive to say about their spouse. One widows said, she asked a family member to make a few remarks at her husband’s funeral and was told, “I have nothing good to say. He was always a drunk to me.” Sensing judgement and criticism, widows often become more isolated.

This isolation led to depression. These widows would often ruminate on the past, wondering if they were somehow to blame for his substance abuse use. One widow admits that she gave up on her spouse and obtained a legal separation. She hoped this action would force him into treatment. Shortly after the separation, he died. She blamed herself for his death, feeling guilty for demanding the split, and thought he would be alive had they remained together. She sunk into a depression, and eventually at the urging of her family, entered into psychiatric treatment.

Coping with this type of guilt intertwined with grief is a heavy task, and there is nothing wrong with seeking licensed professional therapy. There are some others things that you can do to help with the guilt:

1. Give yourself grace — you deserve a pass. This is not a time to expect perfection from yourself.

2. Forgive yourself — if you can’t let go of everything, then, start with a few small things.

3. Seek non-judgemental support. This may be a trusted friend, a relative or member of a support group. You are already your own toughest critic. You need someone who is there to listen and love.

You can also read this article on The Huffington Post.

What People in Crisis Need

After writing The Moment I knew on The Huffington Post, I received some beautiful and empathetic emails from complete strangers to long lost friends. One friend, “A,” wrote me saying she “didn’t realize everything” I was going through and apologized for not calling me. Honestly, I couldn’t recall such a conversation.

However, this got me going back to the 2007 archives email folder, a time when I wasn’t on Facebook and didn’t text, but in “crisis mode” with my late husband. As I scrolled through this folder, I didn’t dare open certain emails, titled, “hospice, funeral arrangements,” knowing it would send me directly back into those painful moments. However, I did find this one email, not from friend “A.” Truthfully, I completely forgot I wrote it. It went something like this:

Me: Have a few hours to talk starting at one tomorrow.
Her: Oh, tomorrow — not good. At spa, no cell phones allowed. How about early next week?
Me: I’ll be at U of M (hospital). I’ll get back to you when I know more.

As soon as I reread this, I gritted my teeth, and eventually I deleted it. Looking back, it comes across as insensitive, but I know this person met no harm. When you are in a crisis you need help, but for many reasons it’s stressful to ask. Acknowledging the gravity of the situation and repeating the “story” is emotional. It’s as if you feel like you are talking under water and no one understands you. Coming up for air, while treading for water, you see your friends and family on boats looking down on you. Deep down, you want someone just to pull you out of the water, give you a towel, a hug and tell you, “everything is going to be okay. I love you.”

In reality, there are loved ones who truly care and are looking at you, but don’t know what to say or provide what you need. For all of you out there wanting to provide support, this is what people in crisis need:

1. Hug. Even if it’s brief, with no words. This is a tender, needed gesture.

2. Send a text, email, leave a voicemail but don’t expect a reply. Sometimes, the person is living moment to moment. Lost for words? Simply say, “I’m sorry this is happening. I love you.”

3. Small gestures are huge. I remember coming home late from the hospital to find a loaf of banana bread (with no note) by my door. Starving, I immediately cut into it, and I remember saying, “thank you” out loud.

4. Go out of your way to be helpful with actions (e.g., child care, meals), but don’t ask lots of questions. There’s a fine line of being nosy, wanting to know all of the intimate details, and being respectful of boundaries. When you genuinely want to support someone, your actions will reflect authenticity, and the receiver knows it’s sincere.

5. After time has passed, still offer support. Know that the person is still fragile. Several weeks, after the funeral, my friend put together a girls night, just her and I. She arranged wine, comfort food, a pedicure. It meant the world to me.

Emotional support makes difficult situations less stressful, and softens painful edges. It helps with healing and is never forgotten.

You can also read this article on the Huffington Post