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Helpful Meditation

Mediation is one of the coping skills that really allowed me to take charge of my grief and brought about a sense of healing that other things (being with friends, reading) had not.

Over the years, I’ve struggled with keeping meditation as part of my routine. Last year I caught a brief segment of a television episode that featured conversion about meditation between Dr. Deepak Chopra and Oprah. While I can’t recall his exact words, I remember he said that if you don’t know where to start your mediation, you can begin with ‘om’.

After watching this episode, I started this practice of just being present and saying ‘om’ followed by a short prayer. As woo-woo as this may sound it has brought about a beautiful peace. Less than a year after I began this morning practice, I had the honor of meeting Dr. Chopra. I told him how this had become a full circle moment for me.

There are many tools and books that provide different meditative practices and I am sharing with you this one because I know first hand just how authentic Dr. Chopra is and he knows that I am sharing this with you.

When Father’s Day is Bittersweet: One Woman Remembers Her Father

This Father’s Day will mark 35 years without my father.

He died in 1979, just two weeks shy of my fifth birthday. My mother remarried a few years later; however, Father’s Day still remains a difficult holiday. Like many adult children of widows, I’ve spent more years living without my father than I’ve lived with him. While decades have passed, I’ve learned that there is no finish line for grief. Instead, I’ve learned to cope with this enormous loss. At times, like my graduate school graduation and milestone birthdays, my father’s absence was deeply painful.

I can still recall being in Kindergarten and even though Father’s Day was not part of the actual school year, we were still asked to draw pictures of our dads.

I froze.

The male student next to me took to the task with little thought, and started drawing his father. I just sat there. I thought about a photograph that I had of my dad and briefly tried to replicate it. Then, I was confused. The photograph was in black and white. My kindergarten mind wasn’t sure what to do. Do I make up the color of the sport coat and tie my dad was wearing? The teacher noticed I was just sitting there unsure of what to do. She walked over to me, knelt down and in a very loving maternal tone said, “You can draw your grandpa or uncle.” I don’t think I verbally replied. I couldn’t think. Opting out of this assignment didn’t seem to be an option. I’m fairly certain that I was the only child in my class who had a deceased father. Both of my grandfathers were alive, but drawing them wasn’t the same.

My father died from cancer when he was thirty. I never saw him walk because he was confined to a wheelchair. The cancer had done that much damage. I know about my father through others, primarily my late maternal grandmother and my paternal uncles. It is a strange experience to learn about your father through the lens of others. Once, my paternal grandma said my father had a wool red coat and loved it. Coincidentally, I also had a red winter coat, and decided to wear it whenever the weather permitted. I felt close to my father in this small way. I spent most of my twenties getting to know my father through my grandmother. I clung to every story she shared. I wish I had recorded all of these conversations.

This Father’s Day, I encourage you to reach out to a child who won’t be spending Father’s Day with their father. Even if a child doesn’t articulate their father’s death as you may think they would, I’m here to tell you that this is a significant loss. It is a magnificent void that no one can fill. However, you can ease the pain of this void by being completely present with a child on this day. If you can’t think of anything to say, it is enough to offer these thoughts, “I’m sorry that your father isn’t here with you, but I want you to know that he would be very proud of you.” Someone once spoke these words to me on Father’s Day, and it brought me tremendous comfort.

You can also read this article on The Shriver Report.

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 Top 8 Favorite Blogs

There are a sea of bloggers out there, and here, all in one place are eight of my favorites. I thought I’d share with you some blogs that I follow for fun and inspiration. I’ve had the joy of meeting some of these bloggers in person and I am inspired by the creative force of Jessica Mindich, and in awe of every word Anne LaMott writes.

Some of these blogs I follow are for very personal reasons. While many of you know that I lost my beloved husband to cancer in 2007, you may not know that I was adopted as an infant. This is one of the reasons I follow Megan Vos’ blog because she has written about their family adoption journey.

As you may have read in my newsletter, I am heading to Kenya in October with a few other widows and part of our trip will be visiting an organization that services widows. If you know of a blogs that feature widows in other countries, please send me a note.

1. Second Firsts
Christina Rasmussen is a widow and author of the book Second Firsts. Christina provides hope and inspiration for those women who are on the widow journey. She is honest about the challenges of being a widow and provides help for starting over. I adore her blog posts and newsletters.

2. Footsteps
Christine Somers of Footsteps. I first met Christine in a Montana hotel lobby. We were both headed to a writing retreat, and we decided to share a ride. Later that week, I learned that she is a gifted writer and single mom to adult children. On her blog, his is how she introduces herself, “In 1995, after my daughter headed off to college, I was on my own for the first time in my life. I was working in Charlotte, NC at a sales job that paid well but lacked the creative energy that I craved. I wanted to make a change, a drastic change. I wanted to craft a new life that gave me more time to write and pursue opportunities that were meaningful to me.” Christine offers practical advice on parenting (adult children), writing, organizing finances, and grandparenting. 20130809_170233

3. Women Run
This woman, Kyra Lawton, a Boston resident and CEO literally and figuratively runs. She runs her business, runs her three children to events, runs a household as a single mom and runs races. Last year I met her in her garage which she turned into her office and I wrote about her here for HuffPO.

4. Jewelry for a Cause
Jessica Mindich is CEO and founder of Jewelry for a Cause. This is not your ordinary jewelry blog that makes you reach for the delete function as soon as you see your email. This woman and mother of two boys is doing amazing work. She has a line of jewelry called Raise the Caliber, and she makes beautiful bracelets and cufflinks from gun parts. These gun parts were obtained through a gun buy back program to get guns that were not legally obtained off the streets. I wrote about her here on Huffington Post. She shines a light on others who are also working to Raise the Caliber in their community.

5. Cup of Jo
Joanna Goddard has a fabulous blog that I’ve been following for years. She is the quintessential New Yorker and writes about travel, design, food, relationships, fashion and beauty. I secretly envy her innate sense of style and substance. My dream would be to meet Joanna for coffee.

6. This is Me Being Real
Megan Vos is mother to 5 children and as I write this she, her husband and their children are on their way to China to adopt their beautiful daughter. As an adoptee from Korea, I’ve been carefully following their adoption journey, and Megan has even sent me a few messages.

7. Anne LaMott
Anne LaMott is the author of best selling books like Bird by Bird and Stitches. When I heard her speak at Calvin College’s Festival of Faith and Writing this year, time stood still. She is a straight shooter and eloquent. Unlike many writers, Anne uses her highly engaged Facebook page for to connect with her readers. It here that she openly talks about the stuggles of perfectionism, anxiety and self doubt. She’s honest that she is in recovery for substance abuse and encourages others to live one day at a time.

8. Dr. Mark Hyman
Dr. Mark Hyman writes for the Huffington Post and in one eloquent essay, he wrote about the loss of his dear sister to cancer, and how he coped with this loss. Dr. Hyman challenges the food industry and government to be honest about what is causing obesity and illness. I also took on his Sugar Detox challenge and wrote about it here.

Do you write a blog? I’d love to hear from you, and perhaps even feature it in my next post.

Follow Kristin Meekhof on her journey on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Google+.

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Jolie Altman’s Beautiful Success

At a recent dinner party, guests were asked to bring an item they were proud of and could share with others. While some may have paused to think about what to take, Mrs. Jolie Altman immediately grabbed her passport and her Mt. Kilimanjaro certificate. The certificate documents a successful summit climb of the highest peak in Africa. “What I’m most proud of besides my family is my passport and my Mt. Kili certificate. Both of those things have opened doors for me.”

On a whim in 2009, Altman decided to take on the summit challenge. With no previous training, the then 42-year-old signed up with Road Monkey for the expedition, and then told her husband. The summit hike was beyond grueling. It is hard to imagine the very petite Altman climbing the Uhuru Peak. “We hiked for up to eight hours a day, six days straight, and this included some nights. I knew no one when I signed up, but I knew that I was going to meet like minded people. You help each other climb to the top and I couldn’t have been happier. ” Altman still glows with a sense of accomplishment when she looks back at that journey. After the summit climb, Altman spent time in Africa, with the other climbers, completing a community service project. “I slept in a hut under netting, bugs crawling on the wall, and no water. And it was beautiful.”


Jolie Altman’s shout out on Mt. Kili. Photo used with permission. Photo credit: Paul von Zielbauer for Road Monkey

Beautiful is also a word many in the area have used to describe Altman’s spacious home that she shares with her husband Dr. David Altman and their three sons. The couple has noteworthy art collections of everything from modern to vintage. Their home has been featured in various press entities. Altman is clear that she chooses pieces based not on the designer, but their artistic quality. Her collection has everything from vintage carnival knock down dolls to a child’s framed drawing to things she found at an airport. At La Guarida airport, Altman spotted two large pieces of wall art. “This (pointing to the oversize modern art) was at the airport and they were going to get rid of it. Just as I was picking it up, I heard a woman say, ‘There’s something for everyone.’ I don’t care what people think. If I like it, I’ll purchase it.”

This confidence has translated well into growing her jewelry business. Altman is becoming well known for her original African design necklaces and bracelets. She only uses authentic materials, and each piece is original. What is remarkable is that Altman acquires everything she uses and frequently travels. “I go to Africa and Amsterdam and find things for my jewelry.” She pauses thinking about her growing success. “I have quietly gotten into many of the top stores in the country simply by making jewelry.”

One of those top stores that Altman is referring to is Bergdorf Goodman. She recalls, “I was wearing my things in Bergdorf Goodman’s a while back and someone noticed them.” Within hours, Altman had a meeting, and Bergdorf Goodman agreed to carry Altman’s jewelry. “A lot of it is word of mouth or people see things at some of my shows, and want to carry it at their stores. I have quietly gotten into many of the top stores in the country simply by making jewelry. ”


Semi precious and precious gems jewelry. Photo taken by Boswell and used with permission by Jolie Altman

Altman’s husband of 25 years, Dr. David Altman, also noticed this wasn’t just a simple outlet for her creative energy. Altman says, “David told me that my hobby is no longer a hobby. I had to put my big girl pants on and open a bank account, get a Square (allows for remote transactions), pay taxes, and meet with an accountant. I really love to create but not calculate.” Altman’s designs are now carried by Ikram, Kitson, and Anthropologie.

Since Altman was a young child she has created items. Long before it was popular for top designers to make African jewelry, Altman’s mother was designing her own African necklaces. Some of her mother’s necklaces hang in Altman’s home office as inspiration. “I’ve always done some sort of artwork. I especially remember on Sundays growing up, I used to create all sorts of things: paintings, clothing, jewelry.”

However, Altman’s educational background does not reflect her passion for art. She graduated with a degree in political science. After doing some volunteer tutoring work at the University of Michigan hospital, she decided to pursue a graduate degree in education. She taught until the birth of her first son. “I encourage our children to be creative, open, to learn. I want my boys to be independent. I climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro for my boys to set an example. ”


Photo Credit: Boswell. Photo permission given by Jolie Altman

Despite being surrounded by one-of-a-kind art, Altman is incredibly down to earth. While sharing her parenting philosophy and business plans, she is open and is clear to admit what she doesn’t know. It’s also clear that she exercises, but shuns diets. Altman is high energy and very thoughtful. She’s is the type of person that is so open she can appear vulnerable. In her early business days, she says she learned a few surprising, yet valuable lessons. However, she is not jaded by these experiences. If anything, she is quite sincere about working directly with everyone. “I make all of my jewelry. It would be difficult to have the traditional line sheet because I am constantly creating mostly one-of-a-kind pieces. Although it is often difficult to do trade shows, I am proud of the fact that I have created a business that is all mine.”

You can 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

The Moment I Knew

When we asked readers to tweet about the moment they knew they needed to de-stress, the responses were alarming. Breaking points were marked by health crises, family problems and other types of suffering. We decided to go deeper into some of these stories in the hope that others can recognize signs of extreme stress and start to figure out their own paths to de-stressing.

It’s October and pitch black outside. The birds are not even awake, and I’m rumbling through my purse, going to turn on the car, to make sure the seat warmer on the passenger side is on because my husband’s frail and skinny body gets cold easily. I’m going through a mental checklist: grab snacks, bottle of water, cash. I go back into the kitchen. My husband Roy is up and ready. I see the clothes are loose fitting, kind of hanging on him, but he still looks healthy in so many ways. I grab his favorite jacket, and we walk downstairs to the car. He mumbles, “Grateful I can still walk short distances like this.” I ignore it. I’m more focused on driving to Ann Arbor……

Read full article on Huffington Post