Dec 3, 2014

MY FIRST CHRISTMAS ALONE

The following piece is an excerpt from my memoir, Twenty-Eight Snow Angels A Widow's Story of Love, Loss and Renewal. It's about facing my first Christmas alone after my husband died in 2000. My sister drove through the snow, to help me put up a small tree a neighbor had given me. 

I looked at my sister, “I can’t do this, Mary. It’s too hard.”
“We don’t have to trim the tree if you don’t want to.” I looked at the tree and thought about all the energy I had already invested in getting the tree in the stand. I figured it was too late to stop.
“Let’s keep going. Maybe once it’s decorated it’ll put me in the Christmas spirit.” Mary reached into the box and pulled out the strings of multicolored mini-lights.

We figured two strings would be more than enough. As we stepped around the tree, my sister draped the lights up and down the branches. The tree was so small that we decided to hang the lights and decorations mostly on the front side of the tiny tree. Besides, no one except the deer could see the back of the tree. With the lights draped on the branches, we hung the silver and blue balls John and I had purchased at Target for our first Christmas. Then we each took the family ornaments one at time and strategically placed them in safe places on the tree. The oldest family ornament was tarnished gold ball laced with tiny antique beads that our parents had purchased for their first Christmas during World War II.

Every year this special ornament had received the sturdiest branch. I gently hooked it on a thick branch at the top of the tree next to Angie, The Christmas Tree Angel, another antique that had been at the top of our family’s tree forever. As I stared at the old ornaments, I could see my siblings and me sitting on the living room floor at my parents’ home, opening presents one by one with Christmas music playing on the record player and reused wrapping paper and ribbons scattered all over the floor.
With all the decorations dangling from the branches and the gold garland in place, I filled the small metal stand with water and carefully arranged the new tree skirt with some gold stitching and the fringe along the edge my sister had made for me.

“Mary, the new tree skirt is perfect.”

“I had some of that satin material left over from a dress I made and figured it would make a great tree skirt. Well, should we turn off the lights and see how the tree looks?”

I walked over to the polished brass light switch and pushed the light off as Mary clicked the tree lights on. The tiny tree garnished with gold garland sparkled in front of the window.


“Oh, it’s beautiful.” I tried to swallow my tears, but the tiny droplets filled my eyes and rolled down my cheeks. “Thanks Mary. I appreciate all you’ve done for me. I wouldn’t have made it this far without you.” She told me I was a strong woman and that John would be proud of me. Standing in the kitchen, Mary pulled on her snow boots and coat. We wrapped each other up in a long hug. Before leaving, she suggested I join them for Christmas Eve. Not wanting to impose any more than I already had, I told her I would watch the weather forecast and think about it.


Read more of about my first Christmas and other challenges I faced along my grief path in my book, Twenty-Eight Snow Angels, at 

http://www.amazon.com/Twenty-Eight-Snow-Angels-Widows-Renewal/dp/1432777041 in kindle and paperback. 

Thinking of everyone who is facing that first Christmas after the death of a loved one.

Nov 4, 2014

MEMORIES




I remember the morning in 2000 when the crimson sunrise was filled with the voices of my family, but not John's. Silently and without warning, death had carried my husband away in the night. I remember my sister, Mary, and her husband, Al, standing in the dining room. Mary trying to get me to stop crying as she urged me to eat my yogurt. I choked each spoonful down hoping it would make the pain go away. Standing by the kitchen counter, Al paged through the yellow pages of the local phone book searching for a funeral home to call. I hadn't planned on death arriving so soon and unexpected. I had no plans for the end, yet the process seemed to fall into a natural rhythm.

A few hours later, my brother, sister and I crawled into the car and Al drove us to the mortuary. I remember the sun beating down on the car. I sat numb in the front seat smothered in a fog of loss. I wondered why Al was driving and not my husband, John. Death took a long time to sink in and when it did it crushed me.

The pain of loss is like the contrail a jet leaves in the wake of the deep blue sky. The white trail's sharp and solid at first, then slowly fades away. Like the contrail, grief softens over time, but the loss will always be a part of you. A new life evolves and you carry the memories with you.

Read more of my grief journey in my book, Twenty-Eight Snow Angels A Widow's Story of Love, Loss and Renewal. Available in ebook and paperback at http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B003FHMAUS A portion of the sales donated to the American Widow Project.

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 athttps://www.amazon.com/author/dianedettmann

Jul 1, 2014

FOURTEEN YEARS HAVE PASSED



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. 
Write, 
Paint,
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!