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.
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