Tag Archives: widows

The Value of Emotional Generosity

There is a lot of chatter about people being emotionally unavailable to fulfill certain roles, participate in a discussion or provide support. At times, it seems the phrase is used as part of an exit strategy to end a conversation or relationship. When one is seeking a way out of any type of commitment they offer this phrase, “I’m emotionally unavailable. All the best.” Of course, what this really means is that the person has no vested interest in pursuing any long term communication. Few want to be disturbed with having to follow up on another phone call or email. This is also a convenient phrase because in a world that honors the over-scheduled and hurried, being unavailable sounds logical and fits neatly into any dialogue.

However, I wonder how many of the emotionally unavailable obtain genuine support from others. After all, receiving support means to some extent that one is open, and this also infers that one is willing to give. To be clear, emotional generosity is not referring to a co-dependent, financial or abusive relationship. Instead, emotional generosity is being available for another, offering support, providing honest communication, and giving without an agenda.

Emotional generosity is critical for developing authentic relationships. It offers presence, trust, and comfort in world that can be overwhelming and lonely. Things happen over a lifespan, relationships fall away, but friendships where this generosity is practiced are deeper and wholeheartedly richer.

In doing research for my upcoming book, A Widow’s Guide To Healing, I interviewed widows of all ages about how they coped with their loss and what they found to assuage their grief. An overwhelming number of the widows reported that a close friendship, either with a family member or friend, was a critical factor. Now, I am not suggesting that one can only benefit from emotional generosity if a death occurs. What I am suggesting is that there are great benefits in having this deep social support.

Young children are often the best models for practicing emotional generosity. They are apt to tell you exactly what is on their mind, and find joy in giving. Years before my late husband was diagnosed with cancer he was visiting his close friend’s son, Charlie (not his real name), who had terminal cancer. Charlie knew he was dying and was prepared to say goodbye. Before my husband left their home, Charlie gave him a Transformer toy car. Charlie said, “This is for you because I’m being transformed.”

The day after I found out that my husband had advanced cancer, I noticed that the Transformer was on our fireplace mantle. It was Charlie’s mother who spoke at my husband’s funeral. Then without judgment she went on to teach me about emotional generosity. Now, the Transformer is on my bookshelf. It is the kind of thing that always stays with you as do dear friends.

Article published in HuffPost Healthy Living, 2/4/15

Unbounded Gratitude

Last month I went to Nairobi, Kenya with a small group of widows. We were connected with a charity organization that services widows and their children. We were given the opportunity to meet with the widows and visit their homes. I had the absolute joy of meeting Peninnah, a mother of three young children. Peninnah is one of those women who you would expect to be depressed and pessimistic, and frankly who could blame her? She lives in a slum, called Kibera, the largest slum many believe to be in Africa. At times it is estimated that nearly 1 million people live here. Peninnah doesn’t have running water, electricity, a bank account, or even access to even a bicycle. She spent part of her afternoon with me telling me about her daily life: how she waters down the food to get two meals out of it, cares for her infant, and how she makes necklaces (photographed below) to earn cash.

Peninnah explains the process necessary to make these necklaces. She uses discarded paper, measures and cuts it, then dyes it. Once the paper is dry, she rolls each strip of paper with a toothpick and then puts it together, like you would stringing beads on a necklace. I ask her how long it takes to make one necklace. She responds by telling me that she can make five a day, and has even taught other women in the group how to make the necklaces so that they too can earn a living.

This all seems rather hopeless to me. I think she’s living in a disaster zone, and I can’t believe that she is smiling and loving on her baby while telling me this. When I ask about how she accesses health care, she calmly explains that she has to save up money to obtain transportation to get to the NGO hospital whenever one of her children needs medical attention. She is a warm and even asks about my late husband. Our conversation comes to an end when she realizes the women are getting together to participate in a group activity. I tell Peninnah that I can hold her baby so that she can participate with the other women.

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Photograph is property of Kristin Meekhof

The next morning our group met the women, and I immediately saw Peninnah holding her baby. Upon sitting next to Peninnah, she opened her purse and gave me a bracelet. I am speechless. She was so grateful for my time in taking care of her baby that she’s giving me this bracelet as a token of gratitude. Full of love she said, “This is for you because you held my baby (so) I could be with the group.”

This mother who supports her family on less than a dollar a day, has found her way to gratitude. And once she has found it, she then decided to give with an open hand. Most humbling is knowing that the bracelet she gave me could have sold to earn a few shillings.

An open heart fosters gratitude, which in turn as Peninnah knows, produces joy. Gratitude despite any circumstances isn’t easy. And so every time I look at the bracelet Peninnah gave me I think of what this gift revealed: gratitude that knows no bounds leads to openheartedness and openhandedness.

Published in Huffingtion Post Healthy Living on 11/17/2014

Empowering Widows Across the World

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Lord Loomba, CBE, receiving his lifetime achievement award from Abid Qureshi, President, UNA-NY Photography by Melanie Quinn Photography; Used with permission from the United Nations- New York


“Be the change you wish to see in the world.” — Gandhi

Last month, I had the honor of attending the United Nations Association of New York Humanitarian Awards Dinner. The theme of the evening was Empowering Women: Promoting Peace and Progress. Lord Raj Loomba, CBE was honored for dedicating his life to doing just this — empowering women. More specifically Lord Loomba, CBE, has promoted the empowerment of widows and their children across the globe. As Founder and Chairman of the Loomba Foundation, he has personally taken on the plight of widows and their children by shining a light on their challenges and developing initiatives to support their needs.

I first met Lord Loomba, CBE, at his office in London, England. Lord Loomba is humble despite his vast accomplishments. In 2011, Forbes India presented him with an NRI Philanthropy award, and earlier this year Northampton University bestowed upon him an Honorary Fellowship. Lord Loomba is kind and generous. It was during this meeting that he asked if I would like to be his guest at the United Nations Humanitarian Awards Dinner where he was due to receive his lifetime achievement award.

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Lord Loomba, CBE and I at the United Nations 2014 Humanitarian Awards Dinner; I am wearing a necklace made by a widow in Kenya. Photo is property of Kristin Meekhof

 

We met a few weeks later at this dinner which also honored Mr. Stefan Persson and Dr. Phumzile Mlambo- Ngcuka. The room was quiet when Lord Loomba shared his own story. He was eloquent in speech and explained how he used his personal loss to transform an entire group of widows and their chidren across the globe. He witnessed his own mother’s grief and suffer with the status of “widow” after his father died from tuberculosis. He was just 10, but still remembers that his mother was blamed for his father’s death, and within hours of his death she was asked to remove her bindi. Equally as troubling was when his mother was asked to wear all white and was no longer able to dress in her colorful clothing. Essentially she was stripped of her dignity.

One of Lord Loomba’s goals is to restore a level of respect and dignity to all widows. His tireless determination knows only the boundaries that governments have established, and even there he worked to bring about change. Lord Loomba spent five years campaigning with the United Nations to have June 23 recognized as International Widows Day. This date was chosen because on this date in 1954 Lord Loomba’s father died from tuberculosis leaving his wife a widow and single mother of seven children.

The United Nations uses the Loomba Foundation’s report, titled “Invisible Forgotten Sufferers” published in 2010, as their handbook to understanding the plight of widows and their children. The publication says, “One of the main reasons why widows continue to be subjected to gross human rights violations is that although they number 245 million, there has been no comprehensive research or attempt to gather information on a global scale about their existence.” Often overlooked are widows for example who are living in Kenya, Rwanda or Uganda. The publication addresses the needs and challenges of these widows.

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Cherie Blair, HE and Ban Ki Moon at the Widows Research Study presentation- United Nations, New York Photograph used with permission from The Loomba Foundation

 

With the Foundation, Lord Loomba, CBE has created a number of initiatives, such the Punjab sewing machine project whereby helping 10k widows. This project has a tremendous reach; it helps 100,000 individuals. In London Lord Loomba, CBE told me that when you help a widow the “impact is tenfold. You empower economically and the widows are empowered socially.” When widows obtain a job or skill, not only do they support their children but often teach others the craft.

The foundation also recognizes the value of education. Lord Loomba said, “Rual India is hardest hit. There the widows are poor and undereducated.” In India alone, the Loomba Foundation has provided educational scholarships, for a minimum of five years or longer, to over 9,000 children of widows, and supported over 50,000 family members.

Equally as impressive are the number of notable individuals who have lent their support to the foundation. Lord Loomba has garnered the respect from political figures and celebrities, such as Cherie Blair, CBE, QC, His Excellency Ranjan Mathai, Sir Richard Branson, Yoko Ono, and Sir James Bevan KCMG.

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Lord Loomba with Yoko Ono; she supports The Loomba Foundation. Photograph used with permission from The Loomba Foundation


There are vey few who have Lord Loomba’s spirit of generosity and passion for those who are first to be overlooked. He has embodied the change he wishes for the world to be.

To Learn More About The Loomba Foundation’s Punjab Sewing Machine Project, follow this link, theloombafoundation.org/helping-5000-widows-punjab-project-goes-live/

You can read Lord Loomba’s blog here theloombafoundation.org/blog/

Published in Huffintington Post Impact on 11/21/2014

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

My Trip to Kenya

As many of you read in my newsletter, I am heading to Kenya. I will be traveling with a few other widows, and we will be visiting an organization that services widows. International Widows Day is June 23, 2014. This day brings to light the significant issues widows and children face. These problems include poverty, illiteracy, HIV/ AIDS, and social oppression. Please stay tuned for the photos and articles I’ll be honored to share with you as a result of my experiences in Africa.

You can find more information about International Widow’s Day here, at the Loomba Foundation.

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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.