Every Wednesday

Every other Wednesday, I will post a reflection on the entire landscape of grief. This blog isn't just for widowers. It's for everyone who grieves. I want to encourage people to share their stories and compassion with each other, build up a community of support, and help those who have never grieved understand the trauma that death brings.

Wednesday, October 6, 2021

Suffering

  


        ‘Pain and suffering are inevitable for those with a deep heart.’ Fyodor Dostoyevsky 

If we love anyone, we will suffer when they die because their death will fracture us. Many of us will think that we should be strong enough to deal with grief on our own, so we won’t tell anyone. When others are suffering, they don’t tell us for the same reason, even though we would want to help. Everyone ends up suffering in silence, alone with our thoughts and feelings that circle around and around until they spiral us down. 

 

Because grief will never completely go away, the question is how to live with grief and still celebrate the daily joy of life? 

 

Wednesday, September 22, 2021

Gratitude and the Long Arc of Grief


             I’m sitting in a cemetery in Peru with the dead, thinking about Hope’s journey to a different Peru, sorrow for an entire culture of people, and trying to describe how moved I am by the breadth of her book The AfterGrief. 

Today is the fall equinox and dry leaves are beginning to drop from the trees and rest on graves in central Illinois, which means that October and Halloween will soon be here when we will dress our children up as skeletons and images of the living dead, but we still won’t talk about death.

 

            In her book, Hope Edelman discusses death, grief, and living, and includes so many insights that I won’t try to summarize everything here. My marked-up copy attests to all of her findings about the clarity and complexities of grief that I want to think about more. 

 

Wednesday, September 8, 2021

Philosophy of Grief






 a prolegomenon

 

             Philosophy is like sitting in a café and sipping a hot latte. It’s something special and reassuring. It should be a triple espresso and give us a jolt of energy because it opens a window into a convoluted problem and we can finally see the genesis of an answer. It should roust us into spirited discussions.

 

            A philosophy of grief should help those who are grieving understand what is happening, guide us in learning about ourselves, and help us find meaning in our experiences. It should also enable us to see how our personal suffering, the grief of one individual, fits into the larger context of the suffering going in the world. 

 

Wednesday, August 25, 2021

Possessions Left Behind

 


            After a loved one’s death, we have to decide what to do with their possessions. Although there are some things that we wish they would have taken with them, many of their possessions have stories and emotions attached—their favorite coffee cup with the slight chip, the tools they used for their hobbies, the scent in their clothes, and their ashes.

 

            After Ev died, I wanted to keep everything, and I mean everything, even her handwritten notes on containers in the freezer identifying food, and the to-do list on the board, with smiley faces indicating her preference for which tasks we should tackle next. I didn’t want to lose anything that reminded me of part of her personality, laughter, or sense of style. As the survivor, I became the gatekeeper of her life. 

 

Wednesday, August 11, 2021

Talking with Children About Grief


I was going to share a different post with you today, then yesterday I listened to the wonderful podcast of Christina Rasmussen talking with her two daughters, Elina and Isabel, about their father’s death 15 years ago when they were six and four. This kind of conversation doesn’t happen often enough.

 

Before I talk about this, I want to remind you that it’s important to pay attention when people say they are struggling to hold their thoughts together. Seven years ago today, we lost Robin Williams to suicide as he tried to cope with Lewy body dementia that brought depression, anxiety, paranoia, and hallucinations. You can read my post about that at: https://widowersgrief.blogspot.com/2019/08/lost-to-suicide.html

 

Like suicide, talking about grief should not be taboo. We should not feel ashamed when someone we love dies because then we will say nothing about it to others, and this is when we need their support. 

 

Wednesday, July 28, 2021

Eulogy or Elegy?

 


(photo by Marcia)

 

Funerals tend to be more elegy than eulogy, lamenting the dead rather than celebrating the person’s life as we send them off into the Ever Forever After with a toast and a hearty cheer. 

 

It’s probably a matter of timing. If a funeral happens right after someone has died, we are overwhelmed by feelings of loss, and we’re trying to corral enough positivity and joy to offset our pain. A memorial service held later in the year allows us to remember the person’s entire life. Three weeks after my wife’s unexpected death, I thought I could give Evelyn’s eulogy, but the shock of her unexpected death was still too fresh and raw, and my friend Daniel graciously read my words.

 

Monday, July 26, 2021

Head's Up!

 


This month, Google is ending its old way of sending my blog posts to your email address, a service called Feedburner.

 

So, I’m moving over to a new service - follow.it. If I handled the transfer details correctly, you should be receiving this post, and there is nothing that you need to do. As always, there is no cost to you. I wanted you to be aware of the change in case it looks different.

 

I’ll put up a new blog post on Wednesday (July 28). 

If you don’t receive it, try signing up to the right of the post.

If that doesn’t work, let me know by writing to me:

 

my email address – muirman1@gmail.com

or my author website – markliebenow.com

 

If you haven’t followed me yet, this would a nice time to do so.

 

thanks,

Mark

Wednesday, July 14, 2021

Courage in the Wilderness


 Brené Brown writes: “The wilderness is an untamed, unpredictable place of solitude and searching. It is a place as dangerous as it is breathtaking, a place as sought after as it is feared. But it turns out to be the place of true belonging, and it’s the bravest and most sacred place you will ever stand.”

                                    

For me, the wilderness of grief was paired with the wilderness of Yosemite because I went there to hike after my wife died. There, in the solitude of nature, as the noise and rush of city life faded away, I listened to the sounds of nature and heard what grief was trying to tell me.

 

Wednesday, June 30, 2021

Fragility of Wounds


 It’s a profound insight—that our wounds are where the light gets in. 

 

Rumi said this a long time ago, and Leonard Cohen sang about it more recently, although he said cracks instead of wounds. It makes sense because where we are wounded is where we need help, and it’s when we look for assistance. When we’re happy, we don’t think we need more light.

 

Notice how many similar words grievers use to describe how they feel—wounded, broken, cracked, fractured, fragmented, shattered.

 

When we have suffered a loss, we may feel defeated and shaken. We may feel ashamed that we have been hurt, and turn away from the situation rather than face it. Yet, this moment has something important to teach us about ourselves and the world that we did not perceive before, an illusion we believed, perhaps, or our inattention to someone who wanted our help but we were too busy to notice what they were really saying. 

 

Wednesday, June 16, 2021

Getting Married Again

 


One of my readers asked: 

I know you are still examining the loss of Evelyn. I also know you are remarried. How did you get from grieving for Evelyn to being able to open yourself and commit to another relationship? Somehow you make the transition. How?

Many thanks, Ellen

 

Dear Ellen,

 

Losing a spouse is so traumatic and heartbreaking that we’re tempted to close the doors on ever getting this close to anyone again. What we want is for our spouses to not be dead and to have our old lives back, but these are not options.

 

Losing Evelyn devastated me. We were young when she died, and I didn’t know how to grieve. Because my friends were also young, they didn’t know how to help, although several tried, and for their compassion I am forever grateful.

 

Wednesday, June 9, 2021

Dora and Nicole


 Loving a pet changes us because animals have a nobility of spirit that draws out the best in us. They allow us into their lives, and ask only for love and respect. The bonds of devotion that form between pets and humans can be as profound and as deep as any relationship. And when our pets die, we grieve.

 

Nicole wrote recently about the death of her beloved dog Dora. She had lost Daisy, another dog, not long before, as well as a brother and an elderly cat. Her words are below. They are powerful and come from a heart that has been broken by death yet held up and enlarged by love.

 

When my wife Evelyn died, Nicole was the transplant coordinator who handled Ev’s organ donations. Nicole’s compassion was evident then, and she was one of the core people who helped me find my way through grief. Over the years, I have grown in admiration and awe of her love for all creatures, especially those who are suffering. Living a life of compassion is not easy on the heart. Dora was a rescue dog who had been mistreated, but she blossomed under the care of Nicole and Jeremy. 

 

                        *

 

            On her last full day on earth, Dora and I sat under a tree the whole day, talking, watching the chickens, eating Fritos and other tasty things. I tried to explain (because she was really smart, like a small child) that in the morning, we would go see Dr. Enz. She would get very sleepy and when she woke up, she'd be at a new farm, with a young dog's body and nothing would ever hurt again. There would be no 1 greenie a day, or 2 bones per week limit there!! And she would never need any medicine again, especially the eye drops, which she really hated but dutifully lifted her sweet little face for twice a day when dad asked. I reminded her to look for a small white dog named Daisy, who would show her the ropes. She had her paw on top of my hand for most of it. I had the feeling she was trying to console me; she knew I was sad, and didn't like it. She slept a lot too, and I kept watch over her.

 

Wednesday, June 2, 2021

Grief is a Physical Hunger


 (In the early days and months, grief is a pervasive, physical reality.) 

The longing of grief comes in the evening, rising from its hidden place, and stays the night.

 

The house I built in grief shelters me. It protects me through the long days and nights. I am grateful, yet I hunger for more than this. When grief first came, everything shut down. Window curtains were pulled closed. Doors were shut, and the world went dark. My mind could not comprehend the suddenness of death, nor my heart the dissolution of someone I loved. My senses were numb, and my heart lost its footing. Every guideline and belief, everything I thought was solid, cracked under the weight of death’s relentless pressure. 

 

Wednesday, May 19, 2021

Interstitial Grief


 I don’t know if this is a real term, and I hope it makes sense. Interstitial grief is what we feel when a loved one dies because it gets into every muscle, nuance, and bone.

 

It showed up last week during my walk at dawn. I wrote it down on the piece of paper I keep tucked in my pocket for thoughts like this, and it felt true. Right after this, I jotted down “diphthong on singsong,” but I have no idea what that means. 

 

It’s difficult to explain the physical impact of grief to someone who has never grieved. 

 

Wednesday, May 5, 2021

One Year


 How does one observe the first anniversary of a loved one’s death? Hair shirts and gruel, or do we lean back on the porch with a six-pack of beer and nostalgia?

 

Getting through the first year is a major accomplishment, not that we had a choice. We did what we had to do to survive, but it has taken courage, hard work, and the help of others. It’s difficult to believe that an entire year has passed because it seems like they have just died. Yet so much has happened in 12 months that it also seems like a long time ago. It doesn’t matter whether they were a spouse, partner, child, parent, or friend, their death was traumatic, and we have struggled with a host of emotions like anger, frustration, loneliness, and depression that threatened to overwhelm us. Although shock and numbness have buffered much of the pain, we still feel the deep, unrelenting ache of their absence.

 

Thursday, April 22, 2021

Alone, and yet her presence

 


(photo of Half Dome by Mark Liebenow)

 

One of the big realizations after my wife died was that I was now alone. There was loneliness, and longing, and something deeper that I couldn’t describe. Life felt dry, like a desert.

 

I missed Evelyn—her daily presence, her singing, the inquisitive look in her eyes, the gentle touch of her hands, the little things she would do, the scent of her perfume. I missed the life we had built up together over 18 years, and the dreams of where we wanted to go together, dreams that had now ended. Living by myself, cooking meals, washing dishes, even watching TV, were uninteresting chores. I missed the person I was when Evelyn was around because I smiled more, and felt confident and witty. She understood my jokes, and encouraged me to try things that I wasn’t sure I could do. I missed the person I was becoming because of her.

 

Wednesday, April 7, 2021

Grief on TV

 


When grief is portrayed on TV, it’s usually a surface storyline, a convenient pivot for the regular characters to do what they normally do around it. While I don’t expect any TV series to spend much time on dying or grief, because the shows are designed to entertain, when serious subjects are addressed, I want them to be depicted accurately. In real life, most of us want to deal with our problems honestly, and TV has the opportunity to show us how to move past our hesitations and fears.

 

Recently I saw a rerun of the “M.I.A.” episode of N.C.I.S. The guest character, Navy Lieutenant Laura Ellison, has ovarian cancer, and the N.C.I.S. crew is pushing to solve a murder before she dies. What its writer, Jennifer Corbett, gets right is the portrayal of the dying woman. According to Katherine Cunningham, the actress who portrays Laura, Corbett based Laura on a person she knew.

Wednesday, March 24, 2021

Boxes of Imagined Grief


 My friends didn’t know what to say to me because Ev died young and unexpectedly. No one had taught my generation about grief, not what to say or do or expect. No one knew to tell me that life was over as I had known it, or that I would be thrown into a land cratered by death for more than a year.

 

Yet everyone had a Box of Imaginary Grief, even if they had never lost anyone close, filled with odds and ends of what they thought sorrow might be like. Whenever I came over, they dug around in their box, took out something braided with hope, and handed it to me to comfort my grief. Then they expected the dinner party to go on as planned. As you might have guessed, this wasn’t what I needed. 

 

Friday, March 12, 2021

Doctor Who and the Afterlife


Clara’s dead, maybe.


Doctor Who is a science fiction program on the BBC that revolves around the relationship of the Doctor and various companions as they jump around different universes through time and space saving people, planets, and whatnot. Clara is one of the companions who remind him of his values and keep him in line. They travel in a blue TARDIS (Time and Relative Dimension in Space), which looks like an old, British police telephone box from the outside, yet is enormous on the inside.

 

If you’re new to the Whovian Universe, you’ll probably miss some of the references in the episodes to what happened before and to previous incarnations of the Doctor. The writers like to do this a lot. In addition to the interesting storylines and characters, I also like the philosophical riffs, although sometimes I like them so much that I continue thinking about them, miss where the story went, and have to scramble to catch up.

 

Wednesday, February 24, 2021

Stone Monastery of Grief


 For many people, the world of grief seems like a void, a large cavern of terror that everyone wants to flee, a place filled with utterly depressing chaos and rampaging emotions. And it is. It’s also filled with people who have unshakable compassion.

 

There are long periods of silence after the first onslaught of grief calms, and to those who grieve, the experience feels like living in a monastery. So much has been taken away that life feels pared back to stone walls and quiet, except for occasional rantings in the middle of the night. We’re always slightly cold, and the food we eat, while nutritious and warm, is nothing to write home about.

 

Sunday, February 14, 2021

Valentine for Grief


 (When a partner dies, we begin an unwanted relationship with grief. My article was first published on Rebelle Society. http://ow.ly/38xznn )

 

            *

 

I admit it’s unexpected, but I find Grief romantic. 

 

She gives me her undivided attention, but she’s badass. A tiger-woman. Wounded-little-bird woman. Wild, frontier woman with soft doe eyes and fishnet stockings. I never know what she’s going to do next.

 

Grief whispers in my ear, entices me to dig deeper into emotions than I want to go. Asks what I loved best about Evelyn, and when I tell her, she twists the knife. “You don’t have that anymore, do you!” Then she slams me to the floor and walks out the door.