Jul 15, 2015

The Path of Grief Led to Places I Never Imagined

I never imagined fifteen years ago when my husband died suddenly at the age of 54, that I'd be a published author. It's a path I always wanted to follow and over the years we were married, John encouraged me to keep going. For several years I hosted a writer's group at the house which helped push me forward. Then when I went through my master's program for a degree in Curriculum and Instruction, John was behind me a hundred percent.

 After he died in 2000, I filled notebooks with the painful loss. Those notebook entries were the inspiration for my memoir, Twenty-Eight Snow Angels A Widow's Story of Love, Loss and Renewal. The book's helping other widows and widowers find meaning in life again. After publishing Twenty-Eight Snow Angels, I moved in a new writing direction. I filled notebooks with ideas for a novel. At a writer's conference in California, I read out a few pages of a draft of a WWII novel. With the constructive feedback from the people in the group, I came home excited to write a book. After three years of researching, writing and lots of starts and stops, my debut novel was published in July, 2015. Courageous Footsteps is a young adult historical novel, set in a Japanese internment camp during WWII. The story was inspired by a Japanese family that lived across from me in Minneapolis, Minnesota when I was a child.
As deep as that initial grief was and how dark life seemed, eventually the grief softened. With support and help from others, my life slowly found its purpose and direction. I carry the memories of my loving husband with me and always will. allowfullscreen>
Courageous Footsteps

Feb 19, 2015

A Widow's Quest to Rebuild Her Life


When my husband, John, died in 2000, I struggled to figure out who I was and where I was headed. I loved John deeply and could not picture my life without him. As I worked through the years of loss I made a lot of decisions—some worked, some didn’t. I took on a new job, joined a variety of groups, traveled alone, spent time with family and reconnected with my faith. Living alone offered me a great deal of independence, but deep inside me, I missed sharing my life with another person. The following excerpt is from my memoir, Twenty-Eight Snow Angels A Widow’s Story of Love, Loss and Renewal, a book that’s bringing hope and inspiration to others.

In October 2006, I continued my quest for independence, my best friend from high school and I went to a Christian women’s retreat in Alexandria, Minnesota. My friend had spent several years alone after her divorce. I considered her an expert on the independent life. During the four-hour drive we laughed and talked about the joys and challenges of the single life. All weekend I participated in activities focused on strengthening my faith and nurturing the female spirit. During our quiet meditation times my mind kept floating back to my friend Paula’s dating comment.
            My five years alone had renewed my connection with God and opened my eyes to a future filled with new opportunities. Yet there was something about eating pancakes alone in a bar on a Saturday morning that made my lonely heart ache. When I arrived home from the women’s retreat, I flipped on my computer and signed up for Match.com. Under my caption “Teacher Ready To Kick Up Her Heels,” I answered the profile questions. Even after five years, marking the word widow pierced my heart. In the section about myself I wrote that I enjoyed spending time with those I love, sharing candlelight dinners and spending time outdoors. I described my perfect “match” as someone who was physically active, found joy in each day, and liked to travel. I ended the description with  “Life was made to have fun, are you ready?” Waiting for “winks” to show up in my Match mailbox, I wondered if I was ready.
            For the next few days I spent my evenings snapping photos of myself with my new digital camera so I could post them on my profile. I fixed my hair, put on some makeup and picked out a few outfits for my photo shoot. Then I piled a few books on top of John’s leather chair and positioned the camera on top. Clicking the auto shoot timer I quickly slid onto the piano bench and smiled into the camera. I flipped through the images on my camera and ended up picking a photo my friend had taken of me earlier in the summer. Later that night after reading my evening Bible passage, I prayed for God’s guidance. I asked Him if there was someone who would be a good fit for me, to please draw that person to me. If not, I asked Him to give me the courage and strength to live alone.
            The next night I tried uploading the photo onto my profile. Having recently purchased a new iMac, I figured the upload would be a breeze. I followed the dating site’s photo directions, but nothing was happening. Frustrated, I called the help number in California. A young man’s voice answered. After I explained the problem he asked if I had dial up or wireless. When I said dial up he assured me that was the problem. All I had to do was follow the directions on the site and wait a LONG time. He warned me not to touch the computer while I was waiting, and he’d call me back when the photo appeared on the site. Twenty minutes later he called and congratulated me on my successful upload.
            Every night after work I rushed home to check for “winks.” A few appeared in my mailbox, but none of their profiles really excited me. After adding more photos to my profile and two months of only a trickle of “winks” and a disastrous date with a guy who considered sitting on a dock with a six-pack of beer and a fishing pole a luxury vacation, I told my sister I was ready to stay single and live alone for the rest of my life. With only a month left on my subscription I decided that when the subscription ran out, I was done dating.

Diane Dettmann is the coauthor of Miriam Daughter of Finnish Immigrants. Her grief memoir, Twenty-Eight Snow Angels: A Widow’s Story of Love, Loss and Renewal, was selected as the runner-up in “The Beach Book Festival” awards. She has presented her writing at local Barnes & Noble stores, libraries, history centers, bookstore events, and at international immigration conferences in Turku, Finland and Thunder Bay, Canada. Diane is currently working on a post WWII novel, Courageous Footsteps, that will be released in spring of 2015. Book information is available on Diane’s website: http://outskirtspress.com/snowangels

Feb 3, 2015

Cemetery Reflections


I didn't make it out to my husband's grave last year or even the year before. A few weeks ago, I finally decided it was time to take the long trip to the cemetery. My navigation system, Garmin Girl, got me there without any wrong turns unlike so many of my other trips since my husband died in 2000. Arriving at the cemetery, I parked the car in the general vicinity of John's grave. Then with my box of tools in my arms, I trudged up the path passing graves grown over with weeds, reminders of loved ones forgotten. The sun beat down on my back as I unloaded my shears and knife and said "hello" to John. I decided to edge his parents' stone first. The knife slipped easily into the moist ground as I sliced away the overgrown grass and brushed off the dried mud from the marble surface.

When I finished his parents' stones, I moved onto his brother's and his aunt's. Then I sat down in front of John's and mine. As always it seemed strange to see my name on the stone with my birthdate followed by a dash and a blank waiting for the day my life ends. I hoped it would be a long time before that blank was filled with a date. I remember the day John's mother and brother sat with me in the drab old cemetery office picking out the stone, I never thought I'd remarry. So the "Together Forever" on the double marble stone made sense. Now fourteen years later and remarried,  I'm not sure the double stone makes sense. Over the years, I realized when you're deep in grief life doesn't make sense. You just make decisions the best you can and try to keep going.

When I finished edging our stone, I gently swept it off and sat on the grass on John's grave. In the intense July heat, sweat poured down my neck and cheeks as I told John I still missed him and always will. I assured him I was fine, thanked him for all the wonderful years we shared and wished we had been given more. After saying a short prayer, I packed up the tools and climbed in the car. As I drove home, there were no tears streaming down my face. Instead I was filled with a sense of peace and acceptance. I thanked God for pulling me up out of the depths of grief and moving me forward.

Moving through the devastating loss of my loving husband was not easy. It took energy, daily work, support from others and the gift of time. In 2011, I published my memoir, Twenty-Eight Snow Angels A Widow's Story of Love, Loss and Renewal.

"A deeply moving account of a journey through grief that provides comfort and hope." Melissa

Order a copy in paperback or e-book at  http://www.amazon.com/Twenty-Eight-Snow-Angels-Widows-Renewal/dp/1432777041

Dec 3, 2014


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


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.