Category Archives: Death of a Spouse

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An Uncommon Valentine’s Day

avatar-heartEveryday life after losing your spouse or sweetheart can be quite difficult. But handling holidays such as Valentine’s Day can be unnerving.

We start to see the advertisements on television for roses, jewelry and heart-shaped boxes of chocolate weeks before this day. Restaurants feature special dinners for two on that evening. And when you were paired with someone you love, chances are good these ads didn’t affect you.

But they do now.

The anticipation of a significant holiday or date such as the anniversary of your loved one’s death or their birthday can bring many emotions that we might not have expected. But please know that they are natural and normal.

Most of us feel such intensity around holidays because we are sad that we can no longer enjoy the closeness, experiences and love we once shared with our honey.

Some of us also are angry that they died before us. Others of us struggle with the unfairness to the point of cloistering ourselves in an effort to never be hurt again.

But there comes a time when we consciously accept that we are still alive and if we were supposed to go first, then we would have. And since this is the way things have turned out, why not live life to the fullest.

When that turn in thinking eventually arrives, it can gloriously begin a guilt-free new life whereby you take a long deep breath and with a loving kiss planted on their picture, you decide to consider new adventures.

It doesn’t mean you don’t miss them. It doesn’t mean you will not honor their memory for your children’s sake. It only means that you are now beginning a new and perhaps a somewhat scary life where the unknown awaits.

And that is a good thing.

So on Valentine’s Day, find the right thing that will make you happy. Is it the chocolate-covered pretzels, cherries or strawberries? Shall you get that massage you have been promising yourself because you miss your husband’s touch?

Will you finally accept your buddies’ invitation for a round of golf and lunch instead of sitting in front of the television alone?

Will you decide to give a little time to someone who is hurting like you and share a candlelit dinner together with a funny movie?

Or is it, perhaps, time to give that little soul at the animal rescue shelter a new life with you?

Even if you find yourself melancholy at times, no need to be embarrassed. Those who love you know this transition has not been easy for you.

So accept that kind pat on the back or hug, accept all the well wishes of those who love and care for you and remember that your sweetheart would want you to enjoy your life. Their love for you will never die.

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Holiday Grief: My Story by Michelle Enis Vasquez, San Antonio, TX

Brian and MichelleI have been widowed twice.

I put up my Christmas tree two weeks ago. On Thanksgiving, my beloved Brian will have been gone eight weeks. He died October 3, 2013.

I decided that the Christmas tree would be a memorial to him, and I got a whole bunch of purple ornaments (our favorite color) and some British ornaments, and other ornaments that reminded me of our time together.

My beloved husband, Al, died in 2007. I have ornaments from years past to honor his memory, and I added a few more this year. I also found two angels that did not look like women (hard to find) and put them close together, symbolizing my two guardian angels, Al and Brian, who are looking after me.

I turn on those lights when I wake up and keep them on until I go to bed. I need a bit of cheer at this very difficult time.

Michelle Enis Vasquez lives in San Antonio, Texas. This picture was taken on a cruise to Alaska they enjoyed just a month before his death in October, 2013. Michelle also recently baked a cake to honor her two angels. To read the comments on my Facebook invitation, click here.

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Why Murder Never Goes Away

I can’t help but think about all the families affected today by the media reports that the Libya’s dictator, Moammar Gadhafi is dead.

All the families around the world whose lives were irreparably damaged by the commands and actions of this man will once again be thrown into the past revisiting horrific memories of sorrow and loss.

The closest to me, as fellow memories of survivors of homicide groups at the time, were the families of the Syracuse University students who were simply returning a few days before Christmas on Pan Am 103 in December, 1988. These young people had enjoyed a wonderful semester abroad and were coming home for the holiday season through New York’s JFK airport. But they never made it.

It took decades for these 270 victims’ families to get the cooperation of our own government to press for those responsible for the downing of this aircraft and it all led back to Gadhafi. And little justice was ever achieved.

Only months ago, the man supposedly responsible was released from prison because he was terminally ill. After all, we must be compassionate, now shouldn’t we?

As the news of Gadhafi’s death starts to move onto the airwaves, it will only be a few hours until the famous picture of the nose of Pan Am 103 will be up in all forms of media, thus bringing back the sad memories for these families.

I remember specifically one mother whose son was killed on Pan Am 103 and also a student at Syracuse University in upstate New York, telling me how every time she saw that picture of the plane’s nose, it pierced her heart. It brought all the pain and memories back again. It just never seemed to go away.

Well it’s been nearly 23 years since she and the other families both in the United States and those killed on the ground in Lockerbie, Scotland have memorialized their loved ones.

Today, all that pain, all those memories will rush back in.

But I’d like to believe that instead, these US families and families all around the world who were affected by the orders of this ruthless killer, will finally feel some sense of justice, relief and satisfaction today, with the death of this vicious man.

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9/11: Experiences, Reflections, Changes

I spent the summer of 2001 writing my book Understanding Your Grieving Heart After a Loved One’s Death. The evening before 9/11 I was developing the press plan and rejoicing because the printer had called that Monday to say the galleys had been shipped via UPS and I should expect them in a few days. Those books didn’t arrive for over four weeks.

Since I worked through the night, it was my former husband who woke me to the words, “Mar, I think you better get up…a plane has hit the World Trade Center.”

Stunned and still trying to wake up and comprehend what he said, something inside knew this was intensely serious and I jumped from bed and ran to the living room in our Central Florida home.

I remember standing there in the middle of the room with my mouth open and my hands covering it. I never sat down. We just stood there, almost at attention, in reverence of all that was happening to my beloved city where I lived most of my life.

I thought of all the people who worked in those towers and we estimated there would be nearly 25,000 people in each of them. Just the thought of losing 50,000 people was incomprehensible.

Being the video queen that I was back then, and to some degree still am, I immediately searched for VCR tapes (back then) and popped one in. I asked my husband to continue taping and we did just that, taping all the events for nearly a week.

There were times over the last ten years when I wanted to watch that footage again, but it was just too sad. Perhaps one day I will move it to DVD and have it available for a long lost weekend.

I started to think of all the people who might be there whom I knew. There were many.

First my cousin, Peter. He had been a FDNY firefighter for many years, like his father, my Uncle Pete before him, and had taken the Lieutenant’s test. It took a while to find out he was safe, but had lost so many of his friends that day.

He would spend weeks down at the Trade Center in the recovery effort and on the next Sunday was promoted to Lieutenant since so many had perished. It was a bittersweet moment and one our family will never forget. We still have the picture of him in his dress blues with his devoted and wonderfully supportive wife, Maureen by his side as he held his first daughter, Kaitlin, only a few years old then.

Later we would talk via instant messenger usually after midnight when he couldn’t sleep and I remember how difficult it was for him. And why wouldn’t it be. He had been to dozens of funerals and being such an amazing man, his heart was always so giving and loving toward everyone he knew and even those he didn’t.

To this day, I have such great respect for him and such deep appreciation for all he’s been through during the past ten years.

As the days passed, we heard about my cousin Sharon’s husband, Mike who lost his cousin. His aunt was devastated and although I never met her, I remember sending a bunch of my books for a fundraiser they did on Staten Island. I was glad to do that.

We also heard about my cousin’s husband, Brian, who works for Port Authority and lost many friends but also almost lost his life trying to get out of the towers, walking dozens of flights to safety.

Years later, I would hear his story in person when we had a chance to reflect, ironically when I was recovering from a life-threatening accident and he graciously would pick me up and bring me to church.

Both Brian and Peter were so steadfast in their willingness to help me when I was recovering from all those broken bones, and I will never forget their love and care for me.

Then there was my brother’s former girlfriend, Nina, who lost her brother Andrew in the towers. I stayed with her a few years after the tower fell when I moved back to NYC and I remember the two of us reminiscing about Andrew and his life and work and loves. She loved and missed him so much.

I also remember meeting and exchanging books with Julia Rathey, whose husband, David was killed in the towers that day. She had written a book entitled What Children Need When They Grieve which I thoroughly enjoyed and felt was so wonderfully written, not to mention all the help it brought to suffering families in the years following 9/11.

I was so happy when she shared, years later, that she would remarry a great guy named Gregg. She deserved to be happy again.

As I stood in the living room not moving, not speaking, in total shock, one of the things I started to remember was my pictures. I frantically started to search for them in my boxes.

I knew they were there…but where were they. You see I have celebrated three milestone in my life in the towers.

The night I finished my MBA from Fordham, my parents picked me up after the last exam and we enjoyed dinner together at Windows on the World, the restaurant at the top with the most magnificent view of the entire city.

I remember taking home the empty bottle of champagne and writing on it the date and place. That bottle was kept on the top shelf of my living room hutch for many years. I often wonder if I’ll find it one day among all my memorabilia in deep storage. That would be amazing.

Another memory was when I got engaged on the Observation Deck of the Twin Towers. While we had decided many months before to get married, it was on the 4th of July that he actually presented the ring and formally asked for my hand. We went to the restaurant afterwards and had champagne.

When my 40th Birthday rolled around, there was no other place I wanted to celebrate. Funny thing…I remember being in the elevator with Michael Bloomberg that night going up to Windows on the World. I knew immediately who he was, long before he entered politics.

It was those pictures especially I wanted to find. I dug and dug. I couldn’t find them fast enough. My husband kept asking me what I was looking for and I remember just flipping through hundreds of pictures until they finally appeared.

It was then I wept.

I handed them to him. The best two pictures we had inside the trade center. He took one of me and I one of him across the table celebrating my 40th Birthday. The lambchops arranged so perfectly on the plate…my favorite.

I looked at the booths we had been sitting in. I remembered the look of the restaurant, so open and elegant. I thought about how all those booths were now disintegrated. All that steel, and all those people who probably were serving breakfast that morning.

I have been back to the World Trade Center or as it was known “Ground Zero” a few times since 9/11/2001. The first time was on the 2005 anniversary when I was then living there again.

It was a most profound experience. One I will always remember.

It took nearly four weeks for the galleys to arrive for Understanding Your Grieving Heart which were originally shipped on 9/10, the day before our nation’s tragedy.

While waiting, I informed the printer to update the dedication. It now reads:

For those who love them so deeply
Miss them so desperately
Grieve for them so despondently
The tears of a nation join you.

Remembering those who perished on
Tuesday, September 11th, 2001

We pray blessings over the survivors of these attacks,
the rescue workers for their brave service to our people,
the canine rescuers for their devotion to help, protect and love us,
and the countless volunteers who heard the call and answered it

We will not back down
We will never forget

God Bless Our Great Land
and its people

Mary M. McCambridge (Ask Mary Mac) is the Founder and President of the Foundation for Grieving Children, Inc., a Grief Coach and author of several award winning books and CD programs on bereavement. She resides in Central Florida.

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We, the Patriots

Whenever I think of this holiday, the 4th of July, I prefer to think of the additional title it holds…Independence Day. I have many fond memories of this day in years past.

I also think of the movie “The Patriot” with Mel Gibson, as he encouraged his neighbors to fight together for their freedom. I don’t usually enjoy what was truly a violent movie, yet I found myself engaged in their pursuit of a new life free from oppression in this new land we call America.

Mel Gibson’s character experiences the death of a wife and son, his surviving children a mother and brother, his son loses a wife and her parents. And while their quest dually involved revenge and freedom, I found myself no longer focused on the blood and violence of the movie, but the compassion these broken people were able to give each other, throughout this tragic time in their lives. I couldn’t imagine living in such a continually unsafe environment. Yet millions all around this world do every day.

Regardless of whether you like the way our political parties are running this government, I find myself more focused on the fact that in the end, men and women in government come and go. This country stands forever.

It is the patriots of our fine country who fight for its freedom…not politicians. It is the patriots who rise up to defend her when she needs defending, whether at home or overseas. It is our patriots who risk life, limb, mental strength, and spirit to go around the world to defend and rise up oppressed peoples.

We may not receive the recognition we deserve…true. Not everyone thinks as we do…true. But I know of no other country who defeats its enemies, as in the case of Germany and Japan in World War II, and then returns to help them rebuild their land instead of possessing it.

Only the honorable people of a great nation do that. Willingly.

So on this Independence Day, I focus on all the good our nation has done for the peoples of the world. All the good its done for our own people, our own Patriots. And I know, absolutely know, that no matter what the politicians in this land do to enrich or harm it, America will always stand. For its Patriots will expect no less.