Tag Archives: Grief

Elevate Your Inner Journey: Healing Through Novels

Kristin Meekhof

Kristin Meekhof

“The archaeology of grief is not ordered. It is more like earth under a spade, turning up things you had forgotten. Surprising things come to light; not simple memories, but states of mind, emotions, older ways of seeing the world.” Author Helen Macdonald in her book H is for Hawk.

Boston Museum of Fine Arts: Property of Kristin Meekhof
I was honored to create and present a personal one-to- one workshop/ retreat for a widow based on three novels, including “H is for Hawk”. During our time together, we studied the passages for their teachings and discovered bother clarity and wisdom concerning grief. We shared how we felt loss inhabited the character’s souls, and how they managed to carry their grief, and in some unlikely ways shared it with others.

Continue Reading →

When Things Aren’t Merry or Bright

2014-12-15-20141128_112555-thumb (2)

Photograph taken at the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art

There is a big push this time of year for image management. Nearly anywhere you look there are guides on preparing the right meal, the perfect card, the amazing party, and an inspired holiday letter. There is pressure, real or imagined, to appear that you are pulled together and enjoying every minute of this season.

However, there are many who are experiencing untold suffering, and this time of year is filled with angst and sorrow. If you have experienced any sort of loss (job, divorce, death, friendship) then you can somewhat relate to these sentiments. Sometimes things aren’t spectacular, and you haven’t had a banner year filled with abundance. There are moments when someone asks how you are doing, you nod, clench your jaw, bite your tongue, and reply with the happy answer because it is far easier than explaining your despair.

Whenever you tell others that everything is “fine,” I wonder if you are really trying to convince yourself that your heart isn’t breaking? Instead, why not practice brutal honesty? This may counter your spirited holiday logic, but being honest with yourself is one way to fierce contentment. Fierce because at this time of year it isn’t natural to express sadness; and yet, contentment often follows when you can give yourself a dose of honesty. For those who have suffered a significant loss, whenever it occurred, the void that the person left is often more palpable during the holidays. It isn’t unnatural to see a certain item at a store and think about your beloved. Sending out cards without your child’s name on it is beyond difficult, and this sadness won’t easily dissolve. Walking to the grave from your car are the longest steps you will take. These are moments you never thought you would encounter.

However, being completely present with your grief and rawness is difficult. Many spend years avoiding these moments. Some feel pressure to act as though they feel special spiritual healing and experience guilt for not experiencing faith as they once understood it. Practicing this sort of raw and brutal honesty, rather it is through meditation, journal writing, or prayer won’t bring back your beloved, but it will allow you to be present with your sorrow. This is the bare bones of loss. You are emotionally naked and completely vulnerable and this is why it takes an incredible amount of bravery to even enter into this space. It actually takes practice becoming this open. Some call it the road untraveled; others refer to it as holy time. Whatever you call it, healing is taking place, even though it may be in small increments.

The path to contentment isn’t found in the aisle at your local department store. For many it is discovered in the small tender moments while there’s a lump in your throat when a piece of music is played or you when you find a photograph of your loved one. The most beautiful things come to us when the light is silent and darkness is bright.

Published in Huffingtion Post Healthy Living on 12/16/2014

Grief Isn’t for the Faint of Heart

I’ve written about the death of my husband here —www.huffingtonpost.com/kristin-meekhof/the-moment-i-knew — and I’ve written about the challenges that come with loss. Within months of my husband’s funeral, his older brother died. I flew to Florida to attend the funeral and obtained support from his family. From my perspective, much of this support faded and eventually diminished. Sadly, my husband, Roy, had predicted that this might occur. Soon after we found out that his cancer was terminal, I remember crying, and asking Roy if I would be alone. He looked at me with deep pain in his eyes, put his arm around me, and said, “I’m afraid you may not get what you want from my family.” He then gave me the names of other loved ones he felt I could trust.

This didn’t mean that I was sitting home alone during the holidays, but the loss of contact with his family was a secondary and painful loss. Before Roy died, there were some tensions with some of his family, but I had this magical thinking and believed that I would always be a part of his family. It was not an immediate disconnect, but it occurred over time. Could I have handled things differently? Absolutely. If I could have worn a T-shirt with a big red heart on it that said, “Forgive Me” to all of the family events I would have done so.

The first two years, yes, especially those first 24 months after Roy’s funeral were filled with awkward and strange conversations. In the face of grief and everything else, I was a mess. I did the best I could to show up at family events, write thank you notes (when I could remember), and reply to emails. Who knew I would struggle so many months after the funeral? Who knew I would be haunted by Roy’s words, so many years later?

The truth is that when you mix death and family you will fall apart all over again. At times, I felt total love and then I felt lonely and then came grace, and boom, back to feeling love. There’s often not a rhythm and the cycle is called grief. As painful and horrible and traumatic as it can be this is part of life. Grief, as you know is filled with disappointments, and that includes the loss of relationships.

Grief is not for the faint of heart. After death, you do not know what remains. You may hope for certain things to occur and for people to reach out to you, but you don’t know exactly what will transpire. This, however, is certain — you will be hurt all over again. You will feel wounded and want to give up, but as soon as you realize this too is part of the grief cycle, you will be okay. If I had accepted this earlier, I think it would have lessened my pain.

Original post can be found in Huffington Post, 9/6/14, View Here

 

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.

Single Parenting, Part 3, by James Windell

How Should You Help Kids Grieve the Loss of Their Father?

How do children grieve? And, if their father has died, how do you best help them grieve successfully?

These are not easy questions, but they are critical concerns when the family has experienced the loss of the father and the husband. However, to answer these questions it is important to keep in mind what we have learned about adults. One of the most important things we have learned is that grief is a very individual process.

Every adult has their own way of handling the grief and mourning following the death of a spouse. For some it is something they must do on their own; for others, though, they can’t be alone and must be around others. Some find it too painful to be around old friends – particularly couple friends. Some widows have told us they absolutely needed the support and comfort of a group; others found a support group to be a hotbed of painful emotions.

But what do children need? And is there a best way of helping them deal with their grief?

For some children, the death of a father is their first encounter not only with death but with the experience of trying to cope with a major loss. In a sense, then, losing a father is their rite of passage into adulthood. However, it is a major disruption in a child’s world; a disruption that costs them dearly. Having their world turned upside down by the death of a father results in the loss of stability, and the sudden – albeit temporary – disappearance of a predictable life.

And this suggests the first thing a mother has to do as a single parent – help to bring about stability and predictability while returning the routines that bring comfort and security to children.

Of course, this is not easy to do since a single mother is going to be doing her own grieving and dealing with her own loss. But as many widows told us, their first priority after the death of their husband was their children.

Martha, whose husband of 24 years died of leukemia, leaving her with four children, said that she felt she had to “keep it together for my family.” She said her major concern was her children and helping them to survive after their father died. But she said it was always her goal to never let them see her feeling sad or unhappy. She explained that she wanted to be strong and to show them that “You can survive after the death of someone very close to you.”

But children need to express their grief. And other widows we interviewed said they believed it was important for their children to see them grieve. “I didn’t want my children to think they couldn’t show their grief,” is the way some of them put it. To them, the expression of emotions would be healthy and helpful as they made their way through the grieving process.

For these widows who made no attempt to hide their grief, they wanted their children to understand that grief and mourning was a normal process and their children always had permission to grieve in their own way.

Children often show grief through changes in behavior. They may be sad, but they might also regress to an earlier stage of development. That is, some children might go back to sucking their thumb, wetting the bed, or having temper tantrums. It is therefore important newly-widowed women raising children be aware that regressed behavior is normal. And to help children deal with their loss, they must be given permission and encouragement to show their feelings.

Although they may display those feelings in various ways, it is essential to help them talk about how they feel and how the loss has affected them. In general, as a mother you must recognize the importance of emotional expression and don’t shut off any of their attempts to talk about their feelings.

A final thought: Don’t be surprised to find that young children may be better able to be honest and open about death than you are. Often children are more open about emotions because they haven’t internalized all of the social taboos and prohibitions about what you are and are not supposed to talk about in front of others. But this can be a blessing. It may help you as the grieving mother and widow to deal with your own emotions – while it helps your children to express their own deep hurt.

Single Parenting, Part 2, by James Windell

Help Boys Have an Accurate Picture of their Father-

When a mother attempts to parent alone there is often a serious effort to be both mom and dad to make up for the loss of a father. But, no matter how competent a mother is, she cannot really be a father or truly take the place of a father. Especially for a little boy.

This is what Theresa discovered with her five-year-old son Jonathan. His father and Theresa’s husband died when Jonathan was just one year old. In effect, he had never really known his father.

“Jonathan for a couple of years  has been asking where his father is and why he doesn’t live with us,” she said. “I try to give him information that I think he can handle about his father being dead. But I have found that when he is talking with his friends or his cousins that he makes references to grandiose and untrue exploits of his father.”

For instance, Theresa explained, he will say that his father lives in Mexico or that he was an airplane pilot or that his father taught him how to do a particular thing. “Sometimes I point out to him that he is pretending and that he should try not to make up fantastic stories about his father,” Theresa said. “But this has been going on for several months and I wonder if it reflects a bigger problem and not just a phase he is going through.”

Parents like Theresa certainly understand that children need a fairly well-defined sense of who they are and who their parents are in order to feel good about themselves. When one parent – such as a father in Jonathan’s case – has died, the child may begin to try to understand and cope with that loss. Eventually, how they cope with it will have an impact on how they feel about themselves, their view of adults, and the patterns that get established later in life. How the mother handles this, then, is very important.

Raising a competent, emotionally healthy child in this circumstance means not only handling the absence of the father, but also being aware of the identification process and the need for a boy to model himself after his father.

A mother must realize that a young boy will want to be “like daddy” and this will be reflected in his fantasizing and pretending about who his father is and the special qualities he possesses. A boy will want to be just like his daddy – to be strong, handsome, or to live in an exotic place, such as Mexico. When Daddy is not available, or the child doesn’t know enough about him, then he must make up things about his father.

One way for a mother to help her son during the early phases of the identification and modeling phase of development is to give her son as much accurate information as possible about his father’s positive qualities and traits.

Here are some suggestions for helping a son get to “know” his father:

■ Give positive, but realistic and objective information about his daddy when it is requested.
■ Do not discourage his fantasies or his efforts to compensate – unless you have something better to put in its place.
■ Talk to him frequently about his feelings about his father.
■ Always be truthful and open about the facts and causes of his father’s death. But remember that children younger than six or seven cannot really understand the full meaning of death, especially the finality of death.
■ Remember and talk about his father in detail. Although this may be painful for you, it will likely help both of you in the long run if you can give a more complete picture of who his father was.
■ Share photos and videos (if you have them) of his father. Give him photos he can have in his room. If you can put together what might be called a memory book this can be very informative to show your son what kind of a man his father was. A memory book might include not only photos but other memorabilia that suggests details of his life. That kind of scrapbook could also include things his daddy wrote or articles written about him, cards he sent, business cards, covers of CDs he liked, or tickets to events he enjoyed (such as sporting events or theater performances).