Jul 31, 2014

The Last Love Note

Even though fourteen years have passed since the day I said goodbye to my loving husband, John, I still think of him everyday. We met in 1971 at the Rusty Nail, a bar in Brooklyn Center, Minnesota. We married on June 10, 1972 and began our life together. With both of us working and leaving at different times, we often left notes on the refrigerator for each other. Reading a note from John at the end of a hectic teaching day always lifted my spirits.

The refrigerator notes became a loving ritual we continued throughout our twenty-eight years of marriage. John's sudden death on June 30, 2000, devastated me. I didn't know how I would go on without him. The day before the funeral, I wrote this final refrigerator note to John. Before the service, the funeral director placed the note in John's coffin and handed a copy to the pastor. At the end of the service, as the pastor read the note, tears filled the eyes of friends and family.

Recently, while sorting through some old cards, I came across a copy of the original note and decided to share it with others who have lost a loving spouse. I still think of John everyday and know I always will. Embrace the memories of those you love and are no longer with you. Their spirit will dwell in your heart forever.

My memoir, Twenty-Eight Snow Angels A Widow's Story of Love, Loss and Renewal, shares my grief journey and the challenging process I went through to build a new life. One reader said, "You'll cry, laugh and learn to live life all over again." Available  in ebook and paperback athttps://www.amazon.com/author/dianedettmann

Jul 1, 2014


You think you can avoid pain, but actually you can’t. If you do, you just get sicker, or you feel more pain. But if you can speak it, if you can write it. If you can paint it, it is very healing.” Novelist, Alice Walker 

Fourteen years have passed since my husband died suddenly. The pain has softened, but periodic twinges remind me that the loss will always be a part of me. Yesterday, I spent time sitting by the memorial garden I planted in memory of my husband, John, and the other family members who are no longer with me. Unlike the cemetery with life measured by a dash on the gravestone, the memorial garden brings me peace, a symbol of life's cycle and the light of hope. 

On June 28th, John would have been sixty-eight, I sat on the bench beside the garden. I remembered his last birthday, our dinner at a local restaurant and his beautiful blue eyes smiling at me from across the table. I never thought that two days later he'd be gone. His death devastated me. 

As I sat on the bench reflecting on our life together, fluffy clouds floated over my head and finches chirped from the branches above. The night he died, I never thought I'd even be alive fourteen years later.

I still write about the pain and loss. I share my story of grief with others, they say it brings them hope. I'm glad. Avoiding pain didn't work for me. Building a memorial garden, crying, writing and leaning into the grief as hard as it was helped move me forward. 

I still miss John. I always will. A new life has evolved out of the darkness of grief and for that I am extremely grateful. 
Plant a garden or
Dance through grief,
Healing will come.

Information about my memoir of grief, Twenty-Eight Snow Angels A Widow's Story of Love, Loss and Renewal, at  http://www.amazon.com/Twenty-Eight-Snow-Angels-Widows-Renewal/dp/1432777041 in ebook and paperback.

Apr 2, 2014

Revisiting Past Interests to Find a New Direction

During the first few years after my husband’s sudden death, I pushed myself to keep going. In the process, I eventually burned out and slipped deeper into grief. With the stress of a new job and trying to keep up with the daily responsibilities of home ownership, I had little energy left at the end of the day to even go for a walk.

Eating alone with “Friend’s” reruns to keep me company, I mindlessly consumed frozen dinners, microwave popcorn and low fat ice cream out of the container. Along with high fat meals at local restaurants and on business travel trips the pounds piled on quickly. Add in prescriptions of antidepressant pills that were much needed to keep my mood afloat, I hit my highest weight ever.

Exercise had always been part of my life. As a kid when I lived in Minneapolis, Minnesota, walking provided daily exercise to and from school and to the park for dance lessons. In the winter I spent hours ice-skating on the outdoor rink twirling and gliding as I listened to Ricky Nelson’s voice on my transistor radio. I took modern dance in college and after I got married in 1972, my husband and I rode ten speed bikes, canoed, hiked and even tried running (well, we ran to the local grocery store to get potato chips). I even signed up for aerobic dance classes and took up inline skating.

Getting back into a healthy life style took time, energy and some soul searching. Eventually I connected with a wonderful woman doctor at our local clinic. During my initial visit we hit it off like a team that had been on the playing field for years. She understood the toll grief could take on a body, and she really cared about me as a person. With my doctor’s help I began a healthy eating plan that triggered my recommitment to daily exercise.

I’m not a marathon or triathlon competitor by any means, but I walk-run two to three miles daily. When I travel I keep up my exercise by walking along the beach, touring towns on foot and swimming. Even in the Minnesota winters with a pair of ice grip chains hooked to my tennis shoes I bundle up and head out into the fresh, crisp air.

If you’re struggling with the spinning circle of grief, taking time to rediscover some of your past passions, activities and interests can provide the spark you need to get started in a positive new direction! 

Read about my rocky path of coming back from a devastating loss in my memoir, Twenty-Eight Snow Angels A Widow's Story of Love, Loss and Renewal Available in paperback and ebook at http://outskirtspress.com/snowangels  Blog comments greatly appreciated!

Jan 19, 2014

An Obstacle Course of Faith

The sudden loss of my fifty-four year old husband in 2000 devastated me. His death forced me to take a deeper look at my life and my faith. The following piece is about rediscovering my faith and finding meaning in life again.

In the 1950s, I grew up in a Christian family where lutefisk dinners and potlucks with hot dishes and endless desserts were typical church social events. As much as I loved my Lutheran Sunday school, I envied my friend, Janice’s Catholic life. I loved the rituals of her church with all the kneeling, praying and flickering candles. I would have traded my “Tiny Tears” doll for her fancy communion dress and veil.

Standing by my bedside every night, my mother nurtured my spiritual life as she recited the Lord’s Prayer. My faith made a steady climb until 1965 when I entered the University of Minnesota. During those psychedelic years fraternity parties, football games and study breaks at local hangouts became higher priorities than my weekly church attendance.

In 1972 when I said “I do” in front of God, family and friends, I figured I was finally back on track. Wrong. When my husband, John, died suddenly in 2000, the path crumbled out from beneath me, and I gave up on the whole God thing— at least for a while.

Years later, thinking I’d give the faith thing one more shot, I joined Shepherd of the Valley Lutheran Church a few miles from my house. For the first time in my life I participated in a women’s Bible study group and served on a “Habitat for Humanity” team hammering nails with a group of guys. I must confess, my motives weren’t totally holy. Spending so much time alone and not having any luck meeting “dates” at grocery stores, I thought maybe a direct line to God at church would help.

My spiritual journey is still more of an obstacle course than a smooth path to enlightenment, so this fall, I decided to sign up for a women’s faith event, “Quenched? If Not, What’s Missing?” The presenter, Suzie Umbel, sings with the church band at Saturday night services, so I figured if nothing else I’d enjoy the music.

(Presenter Suzie Umbel)

Throughout the morning, Suzie shared scripture readings, life experiences, humor and songs that inspired us to take a deeper look into our faith. When she sang, Breathe in Me, I felt God’s spirit filing the room. The small group discussions not only revealed other women’s doubts and challenges in their Christian lives, but also their personal joys and sorrows assuring me I wasn’t alone. We shared our thoughts on how to go deeper in our faith with prayer, studying God’s word and making time for daily reflection.

At the end of the session, with raindrops splashing on the church windows, I realized I had left my umbrella at home. Luckily, Karen, a young woman who also had been widowed, offered to give me a ride to my car.

Before we said goodbye I gave her a copy of my story, Twenty-Eight Snow Angels, and she gave me a copy her CD, little bit of faith, that she recorded after the death of her thirty-eight year old husband. Realizing others had experienced losses in their lives, motivated me to continue on my spiritual obstacle course. Connecting with others and a "little bit of faith" helps!

(Ruth Nasseff, Mary Jacks, Kathy Wagenknecht and Diane Dettmann)

Diane Dettmann's memoir, Twenty-Eight Snow Angels, available in paperback and ebook on Amazon at http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B003FHMAUS
Information on Karen Pavlicin's "little bit of faith" at http://www.karenpavlicin.com
Suzie Umbel: "Suzsong Ministries"

Jan 8, 2014

The Lone Oak

The Lone Oak
Sometimes the silence of grief is deafening, the loneliness painful. You spend time crying and wishing the loved one back, but they never return. After my loving husband died suddenly at the age of fifty-four, people often said, “Be happy you had thirty years together.” Which was probably true, but I wish I had an eternity more. Two years after the sudden death of my husband, I spent time writing daily in my notebooks. In the following piece I share my insights and reflections of loss as I sit on my deck alone and observe the world around me.

The white caps appear and disappear as the cobalt river flows south in the distance. Beyond the deck, the lone oak tree wiggles and blows in the November breeze. It’s brown, dry leaves still attached and a few bare twigs stick out like a snowman’s arms.

The tree was hearty enough to survive and grow in the rock on the bluff. Over the seasons, it fought for sunshine and rain among the invasive buckthorn. I almost gave up on it once and came close to cutting it down, but gave it more time. It amazed me how it struggled to live. So I left it there, alone among the buckthorn and brush. It continued to survive in spite of the challenges of severe weather and the invasive vegetation around it.

After Olaf, a local handy man, leveled the brush surrounding the lone oak it grew into a strong, sturdy tree. I often wonder if the young oak was happier and safer when the buckthorn surrounded it with its thorn filled branches.

In grief and loss, like the solitary oak, sometimes we find ourselves buried under the dense brush of life where light doesn’t shine. Like the widow left alone, the oak depends on its supple trunk and deep roots to help it survive. The battered oak reminds me that to survive in grief we need to be kind to ourselves, stay anchored in our roots, and stay alert to God’s gift of time. The light and love will return to our lives again.

Thinking of all of you who are facing the loss of a spouse and sending you hope and comfort. My book, Twenty-Eight Snow Angels, shares my widow journey and the process of rebuilding my life. Available in e-book and paperback at Barnes & Noblehttp://bn.com/w/twenty-eight-snow-angels/1114818659?ean=2940016268804 and Amazon at https://www.amazon.com/author/dianedettmann

Nov 26, 2013


Alone for the first time in my life, I struggled to figure out who I was— a question most people asked as teenagers. The sudden death of my fifty-four year old husband brought our twenty-eight year marriage to an unexpected end. Living at home during my college years to save money and marrying my husband with never living alone left me clueless on how to survive on my own. Coupled with a grief ridden heart, trying to face my life alone as a widow pushed me into a process of figuring out where I was headed in life. Sometimes I even wondered if I wanted to keep going.

When my husband and I struggled with infertility early in our marriage in the 1970s, we considered the limited options. We thought about adoption, but decided to pursue other medical possibilities that could lead to a child of our own. Eventually, after almost losing John during a minor surgery, we gave up and placed the decision in God’s hands.

Years passed by with no babies appearing, yet John and I grew even closer as a couple. We enjoyed traveling and spending our time together. Eventually, we accepted that we weren’t meant to have children and would grow old together. We seldom gave much thought of what would happen to either one of us if we were left alone. I guess we thought we’d live forever.

After John’s death, I questioned our decision not to adopt children. Hindsight is a great teacher too bad we can’t rewind the clock of life. Alone, I pushed through the loneliness and loss with varying degrees of success. I took on a new job two weeks after the funeral. My literacy coach position required me to travel around the country to training sessions with my new colleagues, then return to our school and train teachers. The new job provided many new opportunities and at the same time added stress to an already overwhelming grief process.

For six years, I took on the challenges of single life. I tackled home improvement projects, traveled alone, discovered new interests and at the age of fifty-six even tried dating. I found dating in my mid-fifties a whole different experience than when I was in my twenties. Not sure where I was headed, just I kept going. In the process, I realized grief sucks and that it takes a lot of time and energy. I also discovered the healing value of solitude and the resiliency of the human spirit.

As painful and hard as the grief journey is, the positive energy and time invested eventually reveals a new path and new you. People may tell you to “move on” or “get over it” but be brave enough to invest your energy in the challenges and struggles the grief journey presents, get support from others and take the time to find yourself again. Keep going, a bright sunrise and new direction is waiting for you. 

Diane Dettmann, author of Twenty-Eight Snow Angels: A Widow’s Story of Love, Loss and Renewal. Available in e-book and paperback, ordering information at http://www.outskirtspress.com/snowangels 

Oct 20, 2013

Keeping the Faith

Keeping the Faith

“My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.” Psalm 73:26
After my husband, John, died suddenly in 2000, I felt totally alone in my grief and struggled to make sense out of my life. Alone in the house, I screamed and cried asking God to bring John back. I wondered why a loving God ripped my fifty-four year old husband out of my life. Ravaged with anger, my faith faltered and I fell into a deep pit. Grief does that.

Raised in a Christian home, I attended Sunday school, confirmation classes and even belonged to a youth group at my church. My mother taught me the Lord’s Prayer when I was four years old. Each night standing in the dark by my bed she recited the prayer with me and placed a kiss on my cheek. I believed in God and loved Jesus. My Sunday school teacher saying that Jesus loved us and I believed her.

My husband John and I were married in my church in 1972. After saying “I do” we looked forward to a lifetime together. Never imagining it would end so soon. During our marriage we attended church weekly, praying, taking communion and singing hymns side-by-side. When we faced our infertility problems together, I prayed that God would bless us with children. As the years went by and no babies appeared, my faith began to weaken. With no obvious answers from God, we eventually fell off the faith path.

Struggling with the grief after John’s death, I wondered where was that loving God and Jesus when I needed them? For years, I looked for answers in books and in the world around me. I joined a new church, participated in a Bible study group and even volunteered for a Habitat for Humanity project in our community. Attending church alone was a tough stretch for me. I usually sat way in the back so if the message or songs triggered tears I had an escape route. As the years passed, I continued to attend church services and devoted time morning and evening for meditation and reflection.

Thirteen years have passed since I said a mournful goodbye to my loving husband. After six years alone, in 2007 I married a wonderful man. My pastor performed the wedding service, sending us off with a smiles and blessings from God. My husband and I have found new meaning in life and continue to carry memories of our spouses with us as we build our life together.

Looking back on those difficult years of grief, I realize facing a death often challenges our faith. Attending church on September 8, 2013— Allan and my sixth anniversary— my pastor’s message triggered memories of facing John’s death. The pastor spoke about Asaph’s struggle to understand why the wicked and immoral appear to succeed in life while the humble and loving face tragedies that change their lives forever. Asaph wonders where is God in all this? The pastor reminded us that God offers us assurance that He’s always with us in difficult times; he has a plan for us. I know he did for me, just took me a lot of time to figure it out. 

At the end of the message, our pastor told the congregation that one of the members in our church wrote a book, Twenty-Eight Snow Angels, about the death of her husband and finding her faith after the loss. His comment brought tears of happiness to my eyes. After the service, I gave the pastor a hug and thanked him for the support during those dark days of grief, for officiating at our 2007 wedding ceremony and for sharing my story, Twenty-Eight Snow Angels, with others. He looked at me and said, “I loved your book.” His smile and words said it all. I'm glad my book's bringing hope and inspiration to others.

Twenty-Eight Snow Angels information at http://www.outskirtspress.com/snowangels