Aug 29, 2014

An Unexpected Outcome of A Grief Group

In the early months of grief after the sudden death of my husband, I felt like I was in a fog with no idea where I was going. The following is an excerpt from my book, "Twenty-Eight Snow Angels A Widow's Story of Love, Loss and Renewal". One cold winter night I decided to attend a grief group at a local church. I really didn't want to bundle up in my winter clothes and go out in the frigid darkness, but forced myself to get into the car. Looking back, I'm glad I went.

The Pastor asked us to share something about our loss and why we came to the group. I shifted my weight on the chair. Listening to the stories of the women seated around the table, thoughts tumbled through my head. Most of the women were in their mid to late eighties, had been married for almost fifty years, had adult children and several grandchildren. When my turn came my heart raced in my chest. Pushing the tears back, I told them that my husband was fifty-four when he died, we never had children and now I was alone.

After an hour of talking about death and the stages of grief, the pastor ended the session with a prayer and we said our goodbyes. Walking through the dark parking lot I thought, how lucky those women were to have so many years to share with their husbands. I felt cheated—not enough time, retirement dreams unfulfilled, and no grandchildren. Driving down County Road 18 with my Indian flute tape playing, I thought about the session. The pastor didn’t tell us how to get through our losses. His vague phrases “lean into the grief . . . healing takes time . . . be kind to yourself” brought little comfort and did not magically heal my pain.

At the time, I didn't get much out of the session, but I met another widow who became my close friend. We shared our stories, cried and laughed together. We developed a
friendship that has lasted fourteen years.

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 at

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 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  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
Information on Karen Pavlicin's "little bit of faith" at
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 & Noble and Amazon at