Oh no – Here Comes Valentine’s Day! A Widow’s Guide to Cupid on Her Calendar and How to Handle The Big Red Dread

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It’s almost the 14th and you haven’t ripped out the February page in your month-at-a-glance date planner. Good for you! This Pfizer-fueled holiday turns the next few days into a blur of reds and Godiva golds populated by hordes of smiling couples as far as the eye can see. Relax. You’ve got options. Somewhere between letting it all hang out in a red dress with a plunging neckline and hiding behind a black veil, there’s a lot of gray area for a widow on Valentine’s Day.

Remember, this holiday will be gone in a blink, red and pink heart silhouettes replaced with glittery green shamrocks before you can say, ‘Get me out of this Hallmark hell!’  But for now?  Snap out of it! And shift your focus. Valentine’s Day doesn’t have to be about being alone and not having a special someone. Cupid’s calendar doesn’t have to be a mandate for misery. Make the day work for you by anticipating The Big Red Dread.

  • Entertain – Host a dinner for single friends. Give a shout-out to those in your circles who are facing February 14th with similar feelings. If you don’t feel confident or comfortable to host a party, suggest the idea to a friend and offer to help.
  • Don’t. Dine. Out. – Do not venture out to a restaurant. Trust me on this. Everyone from Dr. Oz (‘look thinner for Valentine’s Day’) to Victoria’s Not-So-Secret has been advertising, hyping this holiday into the Super Bowl of romance. With Valentine’s Day falling on a Saturday, it’s inevitable that restaurants will be bursting at the bars with smiling libidos, intent on love, or some reasonable facsimile. Resist all temptations to dine out. To paraphrase Nike: Just don’t.
  • Good Samaritan – Do a good deed. Offer to babysit for a couple that needs a night out. Visit an elderly relative or neighbor who needs company.
  • Couch Potato – If you’re thinking of opting out of Cupid’s calendar – go for it! Let your gut be your guide. Maybe it’s a day for binge-watching. In this golden age of TV with plenty of must-see entertainment, there’s no reason not to use this perfectly good Saturday to catch up on some of the great programming out there. Join Netflix. Upgrade your cable. Rent movies. Let yourself be entertained and distracted.
  • Me, Myself & I – Remembering Valentine’s Days past is inevitable. It’s not just about acknowledging the pain of the loss, but also embracing your memories. Make a date with yourself. In the privacy of your home, with no one to judge you, bring out the old photos and cue up your wedding video. If you’ve been wanting to do this, there’s no better day of the year than Valentine’s Day. Grab a box of tissues, curl up in bed with the photo albums and remote control, and let the tears come. For some, it’s a necessary step in moving on; for others, it brings a sense of comfort. Give in to yourself.
  • Focus on the Future – You may not have a date this Valentine’s Day, but that doesn’t mean a future February 14th won’t find you in love again. Be open to possibilities. Be good to yourself. When you’re ready, let love find you. Again.
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I Want To Hold Your Hand: Death Doulas – There for the Dying and the Living

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“The word doula, Greek for ‘woman who serves,’ is usually associated with those who assist in childbirth. But increasingly, doulas are helping people with leaving the world as well,” explains this New York Times article. These death midwives can be women or men and provide a range of services from companionship to making arrangements. There are professional doulas with varying backgrounds (though there are programs, there are no federal or state accrediting agencies), as well as volunteers. During their visits, doulas might play cards, talk, watch TV together or just hold their hand.

The dying may have needs that their loved ones are too bereft to fulfill. For long drawn out deaths, a doula can step in for family and friends whose day-to-day lives can’t be put on hold indefinitely.

My husband’s death was not my first loss – grandparents and brother-in-laws had passed when I was younger – but it wasn’t until Robert’s passing five years ago that I became acquainted with the death industry. Then I had not heard of death doulas. Nor did I needed their services — Robert died only nineteen days after his shocking diagnosis. But it’s comforting to know that this type of caregiving exists.

The Beatles sang:

And when I touch you I feel happy inside
It’s such a feeling that my love
I can’t hide, I can’t hide, I can’t hide

What better way to depart this world?

http://www.nytimes.com/2015/01/24/your-money/death-doulas-help-the-terminally-ill-and-their-families-cope.html

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False Cheer? No thanks.

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“Sorry, but I’m just not up for this,” said one of my widow friends about a New Year’s Eve invite.

If the threat of hearing Auld Lang Syne and the crush of shiny happy people makes you anxious, avoid the merrymaking altogether. We widowed get a free pass in the ‘I won’t take ‘no’ for an answer’ category. It’s OK to say ‘no.’ You can’t force a good time, and false cheer may make you feel even worse. It’s not just the widowed who dread December 31st; New Year’s Eve celebrating is spurned by many having nothing to do with bereavement and the recent loss of a loved one. This holiday, more than most, forces us to look back — a painful task. Give into yourself. If your gut keeps saying ‘no’ to New Year’s Eve invitations, make a date with yourself, instead. Prepare some of your favorite comfort foods, grab a good book or watch a great movie. There’s nothing wrong with treating tonight like any other night of the week.

That said, don’t miss the opportunity to feel the hope and promise of a new year once it begins. Chances are you’ll feel it sooner than you expect. Let optimism have its way with you. Don’t feel guilty about pleasures. Make yourself smile.

To all my widowed friends, may this new year bring you comfort, peace, health, happiness and success!!

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Finding the “fun” in Funeral?

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“Fish in the Dark,” a new Broadway play written by one of my favorite curmudgeons, Larry David, is a comedy about a death in the family, slated to begin preview performances February 2. Outrageous? Cringe-worthy? Brilliant? I’m sure it will be all of the above. As well as realistic. Death elicits many emotions. Besides grief, there are giggles.

Humor was a great release in those awful first days. From the Robert stories shared to observations made, laughter was a tonic that soothed and comforted. We didn’t set out to have fun, we weren’t doing schtick…well some were (I have a very talented group of friends). If funerals are meant to be a celebration of life, laughter can only honor the deceased.

But it can cause embarrassment. While attending the wake of a friend’s mother years ago, I was standing amongst a circle of friends and laughed a bit too loud, then was struck with a self-conscious ‘WTF did I just do?’ I glanced around and caught the eye of my friend, whose mother had just passed. From across the room, he shot me his signature smile, a silent shout-out that my laughter wasn’t inappropriate, but heartwarming.

When we’re grieving, we need more than hugs and condolences. Each person in your life (friend, relative, acquaintance, colleague, neighbor) has their own special connection to you. Everyone brings something different to the table. There are those with whom you can cry. Others are fun junkies forcing you to feel good.  Some keep you focused and positive. Still others are task-oriented, helping with details.

When seeing someone for the  first time after the death of a loved one, that initial meeting is usually awash in tears. During Robert’s wake, my friend Howard’s first words weren’t ‘I’m sorry’ (though he was) or ‘how awful’ (though it was). Instead, he opened with: “My mission here is to make you laugh.”  He was one of many who did.

Interspersed with tears, devastation, anger and moments of sheer terror, were laughs, chuckles, giggles and snorting-ugly-guffaws.

I’m looking forward to “Fish in the Dark.” Larry has dabbled in death before: swapping golf clubs in a casket (“The 5 Wood”); swapping letters in an obituary (“Beloved Aunt”); and dying himself post-op, giving a kidney to a friend (“The End”).  I’m excited to see Larry brave the topic up close and personal on the stage – The Emmy Award-winning writer also stars in the show. Will it be a train wreck of a eulogy? Will he unintentionally let slip a secret of the deceased’s? Unknowingly hit on the deceased’s daughter? Get caught having sex with the widow? I can already imagine myself squirming in my seat.

 

 

 

 

Tricky Tombstone Text

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When it comes to tombstone text there are two things the surviving spouse needs to write: the epitaph (a phrase or statement written in memory of the deceased) and the term of endearment (known in the industry as the TOE, to describe the person with love and affection).

The term of endearment may seem rather straightforward, but while selecting and designing the tombstone, I was instructed by the saleswoman about the language of the dead.  Words have nuances on a headstone. ‘Beloved’ implies the person was very loved. ‘Devoted’? Not so much.

Then there’s the epitaph.  It’s often difficult to find the right words, brevity being a key factor.  My late husband was a film buff, so I turned to one of his favorite movies, The Wizard of Oz , for inspiration: “Over the Rainbow and Into God’s Hands.” Why not “Somewhere Over the Rainbow”? Because – as I was informed by the supervisor of stonework at the Catholic cemetery, a mother superior-type:  “That’s not a line from the Bible.” I could hear her not smiling over the phone as I negotiated the phrase.

Since there’s only one epitaph per headstone, the words chosen for the first occupant will have to satisfy all future tenants. For those who may feel cheated out of their last words, what would your epitaph say?

A few final words from some famous headstones:

  • Comedian Rodney Dangerfield:  There goes the neighborhood
  • Mel Blanc, the voice of Looney Tunes cartoon characters:  That’s all, folks.
  • Poet, Emily Dickinson:  Called back
  • Gangster, Al Capone:  My Jesus mercy
  • Chef, Julia Child:  Bon Appetit
  • Jackie Gleason:  And away we go
  • Talk show host, Merv Griffin:  I will not be right back after this message
  • Frank Sinatra:  The best is yet to come

 

Packing up the “stuff” of their Life

 

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In this New York Times article, the filmmaker, Judith Helfand, advises people to go through their loved one’s stuff…with them.

Of course, that’s not always possible.  It wasn’t for me. My husband’s diagnosis of “a 90% chance of dying in two weeks” and immediate hospitalization didn’t afford the time or opportunity.  I suspect most of us tackled their stuff…after.  Did any of you have the time and emotional strength to go through you’re loved one’s things…together?

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/05/08/opinion/love-and-stuff.html?emc=edit_ty_20140508&nl=opinion&nlid=12717797&_r=0

 

An Obit Writer Reveals “Why That Life Matters”…in the News

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Another aspect of the Death Industry: the obituary writer. A NYT writer explains the newsworthiness they seek about one’s life, to warrant an obit for one’s death. “How hard do you have to touch history, and for how long, to become history yourself?”

http://www.nytimes.com/times-insider/2014/04/06/margalit-fox-answers-the-question-why-that-life/?_php=true&_type=blogs&_r=0