Mar 27, 2017

Inspiring Stories: Maryanne Pope

Tell us a little about yourself and how you became bereaved?

My husband, John, was a Calgary police officer who passed away in the line of duty in 2000. We were both 32 at the time. John was investigating a break and enter complaint at a warehouse when he stepped through an unmarked false ceiling, fell 9 feet into the lunchroom below, hit his head and died of brain injuries. There was no safety railing to warn him of the danger. John and I had been together as a couple for 12 years and married for 4.

What motivated you to write your book, ‘A Widows Awakening’?

I had always wanted to be a writer but for one reason or another, had never got around to putting much time into actually writing. The day before John died, we had an argument and I told him how scared I was of waking up 20 years later and STILL not have finished writing a book. He looked at me and said, “You’re probably right about that…as long as you know that will have been your choice.”

That was my wake-up call. Two weeks later, I started writing A Widow’s Awakening. It took me 8 years to get it – and me – where it needed to be. But I did it.

Tell us a little about Pink Gazelle Productions?

I started Pink Gazelle Productions in 2002, which was only a couple of years after John’s death. At the time, I knew I wanted to write books but I didn’t realize I would also be writing blogs, screenplays and play scripts. So the company is a constantly evolving entity. Our tagline is “Authentic Lives; Authentic Works” and our purpose is to create works that encourage and inspire people to be make positive change in themselves and the world around them.

You set up The John Petropoulos Memorial Fund in 2005. What is it’s mission?

Actually the John Petropoulos Memorial Fund (JPMF) was started right after John’s death. Several of John’s police recruit classmates had memorial pins made and by the time of John’s funeral, more than $10,000 had been raised. So they asked me if, when I was ready, would I be interested in being part of the JPMF? I said yes! More than 16 years later, the JPMF is still going strong. We are a registered Canadian charity and our purpose is to educate the public about why and how to ensure their workplace is safe for everyone, including emergency responders.

To this end, we have produced a safety video, five 30-second ads that have aired on TV over a million times, as well as a variety of other educational resources. We also have a team of speakers who deliver workplace safety presentations to companies, schools, conferences, etc.

How important is it to you to connect with others who have also experienced the loss of a spouse?

To be honest, I wrote A Widow’s Awakening for ME. I knew I had to write it and the actual process of writing it was tremendously therapeutic. But then I reached a point where I realized it was likely going to be of help to others who were going through the grieving process. And it has been. However, as a writer, I was far more concerned with getting the story where it needed to be so that it was a strong and engaging read for any reader – regardless of whether that person was had experienced a significant loss or not.  

Because of the book and my other work, including public speaking, I do tend to connect a great deal with other people who have experienced the loss of a spouse. I was at a work-related event recently and a woman who had just lost her husband to a workplace fatality confided in me that she is inspired by how happy I am. That really made my day. At this point in my life, I AM very happy and have worked really hard to be happy again, so it is great to be able to be an example to others that the death of a spouse isn’t the end of happiness…rather the start of a new chapter.

You’ve recently started a new blog series, ‘Life After Loss’. What are you hoping to achieve with this?

With Life After Loss, I am exploring some of the topics that were touched on in A Widow’s Awakening. Now that so much time has passed since John’s death, I am able to explore these topics (grief, mental health, suicide, life after death, spirituality, destiny, soul mates, etc) far more objectively than when I was in the throes of the grieving process. With this blog series, I was hoping to get some dialogue going about some of these issues – and that is happening, so I am pleased.

Can you share with us five things which have helped you through your bereavement?

 - What one book? 

Tuesday’s With Morrie – I read this 2 months after John died and I loved how Morrie encouraged people to CRY. Such a simple thing but so important to let those tears flow…when they are ready to flow.

- What one activity?

Walking my dogs in the woods or by the river. Hands down, this is what helped me heal the most. I would go for long walks and just think and cry and cry and cry. Writing A Widow’s Awakening also really helped because it gave me a chance to find meaning in John’s death.

- What one quote?

 “The best way out is always through.” – Robert Frost

 - What one piece of advice?

Take the time you need to grieve but be aware that time is passing. Grief is a stage that a person goes through – but you don’t need to stay stuck in it any longer than necessary! 

- What one song/piece of music?

 I have 3 favourites:

  1. “Wind Beneath My Wings” by Bette Midler
  2. “You Raise Me Up” by Josh Groban
  3. “Good Riddance” by Green Day – not the good riddance part! I love the message: “I hope you had the time of your life.” I know John did and it reminds me to, as well.

Feb 10, 2017

Inspiring Stories: Carole Brody Fleet

Tell us a little about yourself and how you became bereaved?

By education and degree, I am a paralegal / settlement negotiator and after fifteen years in the legal profession, I left for an upper management position in the beauty industry.  My husband Michael was a 28-year veteran of his police department and in 1998, was looking forward to retirement and his next chapter. Our daughter Kendall, was nine years old at that time. In September of 1998, Mike was diagnosed with ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Disease) and battled the disease for just over two years before passing away. 

Ten days prior to Mike’s death, our uncle very premeditatedly committed suicide. Three weeks after Mike’s death, I collapsed and subsequently underwent the tenth of what has since become thirteen major abdominal surgeries. Shortly after I recovered from surgery, my father was diagnosed with terminal liver cancer and died nine weeks later. All of these events transpired within a period of four months. 

 You are a multi-award winning author with the books, ‘When Bad Things Happen to Good Women’, ‘Happily Even After’ and ‘Widows Wear Stilettos’. What motivated you to start writing?

Five years after Mike passed away, I was thinking about how little there was in the way of guidance and support for the widowed and began making notes on a legal pad.  When I’d finished, I had written what eventually became the Table of Contents for my first book, “Widows Wear Stilettos…”.  “Happily Even After…” followed and is a question-and-answer book for the widowed, while “When Bad Things Happen to Good Women…” addresses all manner of loss and challenge”.  In short, there has been a “work in progress” on my desk since 2005!

You are a motivational speaker to a diverse range of audiences, sharing your message of ‘What Now?’ and ‘What Next?’. Are you inspired by any particular group, more so than others? 

Each group is unique and I am always humbled by the reception and the response of the audiences. The one common denominator is a willingness to learn how to move forward from a place of pain and challenge to a place of peace and it is an incredible privilege to play a small role in that journey. 

You have become a go-to expert on life adversity and grief recovery? What are the challenges involved in fulfilling this role?

Anyone who works in the self-help arena wants to help as many in need as possible. The challenge is realizing that no one person can appeal to absolutely everyone. I always encourage people to seek out that which best speaks to them and moves them in a positive healing direction, as healing must remain the most important focus.  However, the reality of not appealing to everyone in need does not remove the desire to help as many as possible.

Do you think widows and widowers are sometimes overlooked in terms of grief recovery and life changes?

Absolutely.  We are a loss-denying society and from how a widowed “looks” (i.e., “You don’t look like a widow/er”) to belief systems regarding dating / falling in love post-loss, moving homes, changing careers, etc., the stereotypes and stigmas surrounding widowhood unfortunately remain constant. It is easier for the world at large to try and sweep the widowed aside as if widowhood is a contagious disease; rather than treat it as a life-altering event that deserves acknowledgement and compassionate support for those affected. 

You have spoken a lot about the importance of gratitude. How have you made this a part of your life? 

Every night, I stop and review my day to find the blessing in it. I’ll be honest; there are days where I have to look really hard for the blessing – but the blessing is always there; even on challenging days.  My attitude is always one of gratitude, because I have lived and continue to live a very blessed life. 

Can you share with us five things which have helped you through your bereavement?

- What one book?

 It’s a tie between “Living Judaism” by Rabbi Wayne Dosick and “Seven Prayers That Can Change Your Life” by Dr. Leonard Felder.  Both books were instrumental in helping me let go of the anger that I experienced going back to when Mike was initially diagnosed.

- What one activity?

My “quiet time” each evening, designed to help me cope with the grief that we all “set to one side” during the day in the interest of work, children’s activities, etc. Whatever “front” that I had to present during the day came off at my designated Quiet Time – possibly the healthiest thing that did for myself during grief recovery. It is a tactic that I recently and tragically had to re-employ…and it still works. 

- What one quote?

“While loss or challenge will shape you, it does not have to define you”.  It is my own quote and one that I both teach and live by every single day. 

- What one piece of advice?

I had been widowed for a year when my mother gave me very wise advice. She told me to stop and look back at how far I had progressed since Mike’s death. When I actually examined how far I’d progressed to that point, I began truly appreciating the healing that I had accomplished. To this day, I still pause and look back at how far I have traveled since that horrible season in time when I thought that I would never see light or know love again. 

- What one song/piece of music?

A beautiful South African lullaby called, “Thula, Thula”  (“Hush, Hush”) that I grew up listening to  (we were a musically eclectic household).  After Mike died, Kendall and I would often cuddle and I would sing the song to her. We still turn to that song for solace and for peace.

To find out more about Carole, visit www.carolefleetspeaker.com

 


Jan 11, 2017

Inspiring Stories: Karen Millsap

Tell us a little bit about yourself and your journey after becoming bereaved.

I became a widow at 29 years old, my husband was murdered while teaching his CrossFit class one evening. This experience was life shattering, to say the least. As a result of his death I experienced a domino effect of other losses – my car, house, job, family, friends… I was basically stripped of everything. Unfortunately, I had to jump into survival mode to make funeral arrangements, handle the closing of the gym, and most importantly to be a “stable” parent for my 2 year old son. A lot of people would compliment me by saying, “You’re so strong!” And honestly, that would make me mad; I really wanted to say, “You have no idea what I’m feeling, and it’s definitely NOT strong.”  I know they meant well, but the truth is I was numb and on autopilot. As I continued to journey into the next few months, and even over a year, I accepted the identity people saw and didn’t share how much I was struggling with living. Again, I had experienced so many losses so I was grieving multiple events and the weight was incredibly heavy – so heavy, I couldn’t even find the words. I also, didn’t want my pain to become someone else’s burden, so I kept it all inside for almost two years. It wasn’t until I discovered that I wanted to help others in their grief journey that I realized I wasn’t being authentic about the pain I was feeling. Now, I am helping people not by being overly positive, but by being real.

Tell us more about your mission statement ‘Take my pain, turn it into purpose and pay it forward’.

About 3-4 months after my husband died, I was laying in bed overwhelmed with sadness.  Deep in my heart I heard this statement, “Take your pain, turn it into purpose and pay it forward.”  I believe I was in so much pain, it resonated with me deeply that I didn’t want anyone else to feel the way I did. At the time, I didn’t know what that meant, but I felt abandoned during the worst time of my life and I didn’t want anyone else to go through grief alone.  Over the next year I started to journal what “support” would look like, what actions were helpful or harmful, and what advice would I give not just the griever, but the people around them. We all tend to isolate after any kind of tragedy, but I believe if we had help building resilience and growing through hard times, then it would create a ripple effect of paying it forward to help others. We’re all connected through suffering – grief is universal.

How important is it to you to connect with other people who are widowed?

It’s not important, it’s IMPERATIVE to get connected with other widow(er)s. There are things we can’t talk about, or don’t have the words to describe what we are feeling and only other people who are widowed would understand. This journey makes you feel like you are crazy, but really you are just battling an internal conflict between love and loss. Hearing from others who are feeling the same heartache helps break through that isolation which helps you start to rebuild your life again.

Do you feel widowed people currently receive enough support within society?  

Absolutely not!  There isn’t enough support because society has created myths about grieving which have become barriers to healing. “Time heals, grieve alone, stay busy….” These myths force us to suppress natural emotions tied to grief, and after awhile that toxicity can start to manifest itself in unhealthy ways for the griever.  It’s a vicious cycle.  Yes we need more support, but really the ball is in our court. We have to first be vulnerable and authentic, and with that, we have to be willing to educate those around us. People are paralyzed by fear, so if they don’t know what to do or how to offer proper support, then they do nothing. But if we speak up and tell them what we need, solutions can begin to be crafted.

You’ve recently started mentoring other widows. How rewarding are you finding this process?  

The most rewarding part of the journey is not just hearing and seeing their healing, but always experiencing healing myself. You see, the truth is we never really stop grieving – we just learn to manage the grief differently as life continues. I still have moments where grief consumes me, tears flow uncontrollably, or I get angry – but all of that is okay, and normal! Now I don’t feel shame, or like I have to act “strong”; and by sharing this with others, we are healing and rebuilding ourselves together.

Can you share with us ‘Five Things’ which have helped you through your bereavement?

 

 - What one book? Mindset by Carol Dweck

- What one activity? Crying!! it’s so necessary and so cleansing.

- What one quote? “I have two choices: give up or get up.” – that’s my own quote that has helped me in dark times.

- What one piece of advice? There is no rulebook or timeline for grief, just take it one breath at a time.

- What one song/piece of music? Oceans (Where My Feet May Fail) by Hillsong United.

To find out more about Karen, visit www.thegriefconsultant.com


Dec 13, 2016

Inspiring Stories: Yvonne Broady

Tell us a little about yourself

My name is Yvonne Broady and I am a native New Yorker, born and raised. I am a writer and I blog about grief matters, life matters, and love matters. I’m also the author of Brave in a New World: A Guide to Grieving the Loss of a Spouse.

What lead you to write your book ‘Brave In A New World’?

I was inspired to write this book after I lost my husband in 2009 to pancreatic cancer. His loss left me devastated and full of uncertainty as I struggled with trying to make sense of having lost my husband to this dreadful disease, in an instant, just like that. Consequently, I was forced to put my life back together again.

How much did your book help you to overcome your grief?

Writing Brave in a New World helped me to see how far I had come in my own grief journey. From the acute pain of the early days after my loss, to the period when I began to realize that I was overcoming my grief and beginning to rebuild my life, which no longer resembled the old one, on my own. This happened over many years of dedicated hard work in which I focused on ways to get past my sorrow over the loss of my husband and begin to think about how I would recreate my new life.

What topics or themes are of particular interest to you?

I wanted to share my story so that those who grieve would understand that the pain of grief is normal, and, in order to get past the pain, one must go through it. Everyone grieves differently and no one should be influenced by other’s expectations, timelines, or other limitations people put on us as we navigate our grief journeys.

You’ve had a quite a varied career. Is there one particular interest that inspires you more than others?

My book is a template for those who are navigating the grief experience. My story is an affirmation of everyone’s grief journey and encourages and strengthens widows and widowers as they begin to rebuild their lives. It also lets them know that this too shall pass, as long as one grieves and doesn’t hold it in.

Can you share with us the ‘Five Things’ have helped you through bereavement?

 

- What one book?

The process of writing Brave in a New World: A Guide to Grieving the Loss of a Spouse helped to bring an end to my own grief. It was a slow process, as it took 2 ½ years for me to write the book, but eventually, I was able to put my grief behind me. I now have a new life full of a variety of activities and fulfilling friendships.

- What one activity?

Exercising, weight training and walking were activities that helped me to purge some of the grief and assisted me in beginning to feel good about myself again.

- What one piece of music/song?

I have such eclectic taste in music it’s difficult to pinpoint one. I love Classical, Jazz, R&B, New Age and Urban Contemporary.

- What one quote?

Two quotes that have helped me on this journey, and which I frequently refer to are:

“We grieve because we have loved.”

“Keep your eyes on the target no one else sees.”

The first quote is self-explanatory and the second quote is a reminder that as you rebuild your life after the loss of your spouse, there will be those who want to tell you what it is that they think you should be doing. I suggest that you decide what you want to do for yourself. Bear in mind that you have been given an opportunity to have a second chance at living life in a new way and only you can decide what that life will look like.

- What one piece of advice?

One bit of advice that I would share with those who have lost a spouse and that is to just grieve. Cry, cry, cry, weep, weep, weep. Do not hold in your pain and sorrow, as over time this will do more harm than good. In due time the pain will subside and you’ll be on the road to your own new beginning.

To find out more about Yvonne, visit braveinanewworld.wordpress.com

 


Oct 25, 2016

Inspiring Stories: Abel Keogh

Tell us a little bit about yourself and what you do?

I’m the proud father of 7 kids and husband to Julie (aka Marathon Girl), the most amazing woman in the world. During the day I work in marketing for a financial institution. At night after the kids have gone to bed, I write books. When I’m not working or writing, the rest of my time is spent playing with my kids and coaching their basketball, soccer, or football teams and going on a weekly date with my wife. There’s not time for anything else.

What inspired you to start writing about dating for widowers?

When I was widowed, I started blogging anonymously about my day-to-day experiences of being a young widower. Many of these stories included the ups and downs of dating again. My stories must have resonated with people because they began emailing me and asking me questions about the widowers they were dating. I never intended to write books about dating a widower but the emails piled up along with requests to write a book about dating widowers. I finally wrote a series of books. I’m glad I did because countless women and widowers have told me how much these books have helped them with their relationships.

What topics/themes are of particular interest to you?

When it comes to relationships, I’m very interested in how men think and act. A lot of my dating guides spend time talking about this because in order to know if a widower is actually ready for a serious relationship one has to understand how men behave when they’re in love and when they’re just stringing women along. Most relationship guides don’t pay enough attention to this.

Tell us more about your memoir, ‘Room For Two’.

It’s the year of my life after my late wife’s suicide. It’s how I put the pieces of my life back together and fell in love with Marathon Girl. It’s about how I found peace and that love and hope and endure despite the tragedies that shape our lives.

Your novel, ‘The Third’, has recently been published; any there any more novels in the pipeline?

Yes, I’m currently working on two other novels. One is a mystery novel and the other is a science fiction book. I hope to have them completed by the end of the year.

Can you share with us the ‘Five Things’ have helped you through bereavement?

 

- What one book?

I never found a book that helped me with the grief or bereavement. Those I tried to read were mostly full of empty platitudes. I think there’s a great opportunity for someone to write one that actually helps people.

- What one activity?

Running. I don’t know where I’d be if hadn’t run four or five miles every morning after I became widowed. It cleared my mind and prepped me for another day.

- What one quote?

‘There are far better things ahead than any we leave behind.’ C.S. Lewis

- What one piece of advice?

Having a friend tell me it was okay to ‘cowboy up’ and move-on. I did and never looked back.

- What one song/piece of music?

The only music I could listen to after my late wife’s suicide was the Counting Crows album August and Everything After. There was something real about the lyrics and imagery that resonated with me during that time and all these years later. It’s the only music that seems to fit life not matter what I’m experiencing.

To find out more about Abel, visit www.abelkeogh.com


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