Inspiring Stories: Abel Keogh

Inspiring Stories is a regular series featuring interviews and discussions with well known authors, motivational speakers and entrepreneurs from within the widows and widowers community. In todays’ edition we chat to US based author and blogger Abel Keogh.


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

My name’s Abel Keogh and 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. 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.


Abel Keogh is the author of the following books: ‘Dating a Widower’, ‘Marrying a Widower’, ‘Life with a Widower’, ‘The Ultimate Dating Guide For Widowers’ and the memoir ‘Room for Two’.

To find out more about Abel Keogh, visit his website.

This article is part of the ‘Inspiring Stories’ series.

Inspiring Stories: Yvonne Broady


Inspiring Stories is a regular series featuring interviews and discussions with well known authors, motivational speakers and entrepreneurs from within the widows and widowers community. In today’s edition we speak to US based author, blogger and public speaker 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. 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. 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. They assisted me in the 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.

More Info

Yvonne Broady is author of the book, ‘Brave in a New World’.

To find out more about Yvonne Broady, visit her website.

This article is part of the ‘Inspiring Stories’ series.

Inspiring Stories: Carole Brody Fleet

Inspiring Stories is a regular series featuring interviews and discussions with well known authors, motivational speakers and entrepreneurs from within the widows and widowers community. In today’s edition we chat to author, media contributor and public speaker 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.

More Info:

Carole Brody Fleet is an author and motivational speaker. Her books include ‘Happily Even After’, ‘Widows Wear Stilettos’ and ‘When Bad Things Happen To Good Women’.

For more information about Carole Brody Fleet, visit her website.

This article is part of the ‘Inspiring Stories’ series.

Inspiring Stories: Maryanne Pope

Inspiring Stories is a regular series featuring interviews and discussions with well known authors, motivational speakers and entrepreneurs from within the widows and widowers community. In today’s edition we speak to author and CEO of Pink Gazelle Productions 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:

“Wind Beneath My Wings” by Bette Midler

“You Raise Me Up” by Josh Groban

“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.

Maryanne is the author of ‘A Widow’s Awakening’.

This article is part of the ‘Inspiring Stories’ series.

Inspiring Stories: Karen Millsap

Inspiring Stories is a regular series featuring interviews and discussions with well known authors, motivational speakers and entrepreneurs from within the widows and widowers community. In today’s edition we chat to consultant and keynote speaker Karen Millsap aka ‘The Grief Consultant’.


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. 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 Millsap, visit her website.

You can follow Karen Millsap on Twitter.

This article is part of the ‘Inspiring Stories’ series.

Inspiring Stories: Stephanie Nimmo


Inspiring Stories is a regular series featuring interviews and discussions with well known authors, motivational speakers and entrepreneurs from within the widows and widowers community. In today’s edition we chat to writer and campaigner Stephanie Nimmo.


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

I met my husband, Andy, when I was 20, we were married when I was 24.  We lived in London and had four children together.  Our youngest daughter, Daisy, was born with a rare genetic condition called Costello Syndrome. She was life limited with a very complex care regimen and I had to give up my career to look after her.  Andy and I were such a strong team and thought that life couldn’t throw any more curveballs our way. However, in late 2014, he was diagnosed with stage 4 colorectal cancer and sadly died just over a year later.  13 months after Andy died I had to make the heart-wrenching decision to switch-off Daisy’s life support, she had been overwhelmed with irreversible sepsis.

You went from being a marketing professional to a full-time carer and stay-at-home mum. How did you cope with the transition?

When my daughter, Daisy, was born, prematurely and very sick on 22 December 2004 my life changed overnight.  I mourned for the child I thought I was expecting and I had to get to know this little girl who was very poorly and not expected to reach adulthood.  My career ended the day she was born. My life revolved around caring for Daisy as well as bringing up our other three children who were only 2, 5 and 7 when Daisy was born.  The first few years were tough but we found our new normal and tried to really live in the moment, making the most of the precious time we had with Daisy.

You started your blog ‘Was this in the plan?’ in 2008.  Was it always your intention that it would one day become a book?

Initially, I started the blog as a way of processing what was happening. I found writing it very therapeutic and I felt it was also important to share and shine a light on this new world I had found myself in. I was always very open and honest about our journey with Daisy. When Andy was diagnosed with cancer we decided (with the permission of our children) to be equally as open and honest about this new journey.  There was so much positive feedback on the blog and how sharing was helping other families, I knew I had to write a book one day too.  In fact it was Andy’s dying wish that I wrote the book and it became a way of processing my grief after he died.

On your blog, you mention how ‘we may not have control of what is happening to us, but we have control over how we respond to it’? How important has this life philosophy been for you?

This is how I live my life.  I could never have predicted how my life would turn out. It was Andy who used to say “it’s not the cards you’re dealt, it’s how you play them”.  None of us knows what life has in store but our resilience is strengthened by each situation we come through. If someone had shown me a glimpse into my future life all those years ago when I met Andy, I would have run a mile, but I have grown stronger and stronger as I have had to face each challenge.

On your blog, you mention that you ‘try to reflect the issues faced by so many families like ours and speak for those who cannot speak out’. Do you feel single-parent families are given enough exposure in the mainstream media?

Andy died when I was 47 and I became the sole parent of four children, one of whom had complex medical needs.  Along with the grief and loss, adjusting to becoming a single parent has been so hard.  It’s not just the practical and financial support, more than anything it’s the emotional support I miss more than anything.  There is a lot of stigma associated with single parents and people make a lot of assumptions.

How important has writing been for you during the grieving process?

Writing has been my most important therapy. It’s helped me process what has happened and it’s been important for me to share my feelings through my words as well as helping my children to know that it’s OK to talk about and share their feelings.

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


– What one book?

I read Paul Kalinithi’s book “When Breath Becomes Air” a few months after Andy died.  It was hard to read but I found it motivated me to want to tell my own story.

– What one activity?

I have always been a runner, it has helped me get through the stressful times of caring for Daisy.  After Andy died I also took up open water swimming and I find it so therapeutic.  I love swimming in lakes, just me and the elements, it’s definitely helped me cope.

– What one quote?

It would have to be Andy’s favourite quote “it’s not the cards you’re dealt, it’s how you play them”.  I have chosen to keep putting one foot in front of the other and make the best of this new life I now find myself in.

– What one piece of advice?

Years ago I confided in a colleague that I really wanted a promotion to a global role in my company. Her advice was to “decide what I want and make it happen”.  That piece of advice has shaped every decision I have made since.  I knew I wanted to write my book and I made it happen, no excuses.

– What one song/piece of music?

It will always be “Times like these” by the Foo Fighters.  We played the acoustic version at Andy’s funeral.  I love the line “I’m a brand new sky to hang the stars upon tonight”. It’s like Andy saying, life will go on Steph, seize the opportunities, seize the day.


Stephanie Nimmo is author of the book ‘Was This in the Plan?’.

To learn more about Stephanie Nimmo, visit her website or visit her blog.

This article is part of the ‘Inspiring Stories’ series.

Inspiring Stories: John Polo

Inspiring Stories is a regular series featuring interviews and discussions with well known authors, motivational speakers and entrepreneurs from within the widows and widowers community. In today’s edition we chat to writer and coach John Polo.


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

I met Michelle as a teenager and we dated in High School and fell madly in love with her. I knew we were soul mates. Unfortunately, we were young and lived far away from each other, so the relationship ended after a year. I was devastated, and the truth is, I never stopped loving her.

Eight years after we broke up we reunited and planned to spend the rest of our lives together, alongside her amazing daughter. Two years after our fairytale reunion, she was diagnosed with one of the rarest and most aggressive cancers known to man.

Michelle fought for two and a half years before taking her last breath with us on January 22, 2016. She was the love of my life and the most incredible human I have ever known.

#she #was #also #incredibly #good #looking

Your book Rants, Raves and Randoms’ has recently been published. How important has writing been for you during the grieving process?

As I look back at this journey, there are a few things that I can say have literally ‘saved me’. One of those things is writing.

Michelle was in hospice for twenty-three days. About a week before she passed away she went into a coma like state. It was then that I picked up my laptop and began to write her eulogy.  The words coming to me so easily, that my fingertips could barely keep up.

I worked hard to perfect the eulogy in an effort to honor her the way she deserved to be honored. Once done with the eulogy I began to write our full love story. I wrote 27,000 words in a week.

The morning of January 22nd I read the eulogy to Michelle as she lay in her coma like state. I wept over her like a baby, as I struggled to get the words out of my mouth. Later that evening, the love of my life would pass away.

The book of our full love story remains at 27,000 words.  I have not touched it since that morning. The morning of the day that she passed away. I will though, when the time is right.

A month after Michelle passed away a friend suggested to me that I start a blog. I hate to read, so the truth is, I had never ever read a blog before. I googled how to start a blog, got to work, and launched it the next day.

What began as a mission to keep Michelle’s memory alive has now become a deep passion for writing and speaking about love, loss, grief and healing. I went from a man who did not think he could make it to the next second, let alone the next minute or day – to a survivor.

Writing is one of the reasons why I have survived.

Since your wife Michelle’s death, you have started working as a Life Coach, specifically helping others who are going through the grieving process. When did you decide this was something you wanted to do?

I’m big on mental health and grief counseling. I truly believe everyone needs some sort of release. I also truly believe that every person is unique, so what might work for you – may not work for me. As my blog began to grow and grow, I saw that my words and our story, were actually helping people.

I saw that I could actually make a difference. As I thought back to all of the counselors and social workers I had reached out to since Michelle got sick I realized something – as AMAZING as they all were, not one of them had experienced a similar loss.

I saw a need for someone raw, real and unscripted. A need for someone who could connect with people’s hearts and souls.

I saw a need for someone who can help people understand that their grief is valid, their pain and anger is ok, that they are not alone and that there is always hope – even in the moments in which it cannot be seen, or felt.

You have stated that your goal ‘is to help others both honor their pain and see that a hopeful tomorrow can indeed exist’. How important is patience when going through grief?

Patience is SO important. I try to preach this a lot in my book. Grief comes in waves, is always changing, never ending and the price we pay for love.

It is so important that we are kind to ourselves, patient with ourselves and surround ourselves with people who are understanding, loving and non-judgmental.

Do you feel widowers are given enough support in society?

Sadly, I don’t. I think this is for a variety of reasons.

First off, some of the blame has to go towards us.  Men, as a whole, have to stop trying to be so strong all of the time. We have to open up, if not to the world – then at least to someone. It is ok to show emotion and to have a broken heart. It is OK to NOT be OK!

That being said, I think our society in general, also shows a lot less support to widowers. Our society acts as though the male heart does not hurt as bad as the female heart.

That is simply not true.

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


– One book?

Believe it or not, I hate to read. I love to write, but I hate to read. Weird, I know. That being said working on my books has helped me tremendously. It has been an incredible healing tool for me.

– One activity?

Writing, speaking and connecting with others in the grieving community. It is so important to surround yourself with people who get it and who care. There are so many online and in person groups that can offer support.

–  One quote?

My wife’s. When she was dying, and I was at my lowest points, she gave me strength. She would tell me that ‘I was strong’, and ‘that I could get through this’. She would tell me that ‘I was not allowed to give up’.

Michelle was my inspiration. And my everything. She is the reason why I am here today.

– One piece of advice?

While at hospice, my friend sent me a meme. It talked about how one could be bitter, or better. This touched me. I was so bitter the entire 2 ½ years she was sick. It was during the last ten days of her life, as I began to write her eulogy, that I began to find my better.

That’s where the name of my blog comes from, Better Not Bitter Widower.

– What song/piece of music?

The song Michelle was supposed to walk down the aisle to. She passed away two weeks before our wedding ceremony was supposed to take place.

‘At Last’ by Etta James.

When it’s my time, Michelle and Etta are going to be waiting for me. Michelle will be walking down the aisle. Etta will be singing. Knowing me, I’ll probably be crying. Can you cry in the afterlife? I don’t know. I’ll find out I guess.

#tears #of #joy

John Polo is author of the book ‘Widowed. Rants, Raves and Randoms’ andHurt to Healing’ with Michelle Piper.

To learn more about John Polo, visit his website.

This article is part of the ‘Inspiring Stories’ series.

Inspiring Stories: Ziva Bakman-Flamhaft

Inspiring Stories is a regular series featuring interviews and discussions with well known authors, motivational speakers and entrepreneurs from within the widows and widowers community. In today’s edition we chat to writer and lecturer Ziva Bakman-Flamhaft


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

For the past 32 years I have been a lecturer in Political Science at Queens College of the City University of New York.  I obtained my Doctorate degree in 1992 and in 1995 I received a Fulbright scholarship, which gave me the opportunity to interview Israeli and Palestinian war widows and other bereaved women.

I was born and raised in Israel. Two years after becoming a war widow in the Arab-Israeli 1967 Six Day War, and a year after becoming an activist on behalf of other war widows, I arrived in the United States for a 2-year period, to work for my government. A year into my stay in New York City, I met the man I would marry four-and-a-half years after I had become a widow, and remained in New York.  We have been married for 45 years. I have a daughter and two lovely grandchildren, ages 12 and 9.

When did you decide that you wanted to write about your experiences?

My own story was supposed to be a chapter in a book I was writing as a post-doctorate Fulbright scholar. The book was a compilation of the interviews I had conducted with my scholarship.  Since the book was not published (it ended up as an article in a prestigious academic journal and as a chapter in another book), I decided to write my own memoir.

You state that it took you around seven years to write ‘War Widow’. How difficult was it for you to revisit these experiences?

It was very difficult when I began. I took breaks. At one point I had a strange, almost “out of body “experience.  I felt as if I was writing about another women, wondering what else could have happened to the heroine of the story, since “she” has had too many woeful experiences, one following the other. But “she” endured, and made a new life for “herself.”

You have said you want to give voice to the ‘young widows who face double standards in the societies in which they live’. Are widows and widowers given enough support in society?

I am not sure about the support widows and widowers get in society at large. I think they do get support from their extended family and a close circle of friends, as many “friends” tend to disappear, or worse. In my experience widows must live up to higher standards than widowers do, expected to be more virtuous than the latter.On top of it, young widows are often being treated like merchandise. My fallen husband’s best friend raped me, and another wanted to “date” me. Both were married; their wives were my friends. There were other men, sugar daddies, who offered me a luxurious life if I agreed to be their mistress. Not only do these things not happen to widowers, but widows and other women who are victimized by men are often blamed for their own abuse.

How important has writing been for you in times of grief?

I began to write about my grief much later than the time I lost my husband. Instead, when I became a widow I painted incessantly. Two years after becoming a widow I was supposed to have an art show in honor of my fallen husband. But life took me to the United States before the show was to open.

How important do you feel it is for people to write about their experiences of bereavement?

I think that varies from person to person. Those who do not have the emotional strength to write about their experience of bereavement should opt for other forms of expressing themselves. As I have already mentioned, painting worked for me. Those who can handle the writing should do so at a comforting pace.

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

First was the comfort and understanding I received from my family. At the time of my husband’s death I was pregnant with our first child. Sadly, seeing my husband burnt beyond recognition was too much of a shock, not only mentally but also physically. I was hospitalized for a whole month trying to save my pregnancy, to no avail.  Being surrounded by a loving family was crucial for me to go through that awful period.

The second thing was visiting my husband’s grave weekly. Only there I felt free to express my grief of losing both my husband and our unborn child. The third thing was going to work every day. Having to get up every morning, get dressed, be with people who cared, and having to concentrate on work helped. Fourth was expressing my grief through colors and brushes. Fifth was talking about my grief with only a few intimate friends, and yes, eating chocolate.

– What one book?

I do not recall one particular book that helped me during that period.

– What one activity?

Once again, painting.

  What one quote?

I do not recall any particular quote.

– What one piece of advice?

“Get out of the dark before it blinds you.”

– What one song/piece of music?

Frank Sinatra’s “Strangers in the Night.” Not because of its depth because there is none, but because it was our song.


Ziva Bakman-Flamhaft is author of the book ‘War Widow’.

To learn more about ZivaBakman-Flamhaft, visit her website.

This article is part of the ‘Inspiring Stories’ series.