Working your way through grief after the death of a loved one takes energy and courage. Often angels float in and out offering support. The sudden death of my husband at the age of 54 surrounded me with many angels. Friends, family and total strangers floated into my life just when I needed them most. Have you experienced any angels in your life?
Feb 9, 2017
Spread Your Wings And Fly
by Diane Dettmann
After the death of my husband in 2000, I struggled with a
variety issues related to loss. Anxiety was one of them. In spite of
all the air travel I did with my husband, John, and for work, I often found
myself in a state of panic when faced with flying alone. I worried about
What if I miss the
What if my luggage
And the worst…What if
the plane crashes!
When information for attending the “Southern California
Writers’ Conference” appeared in my mailbox, my travel anxiety roared its ugly
head. I really wanted to attend the conference even if it was just to prove to
myself I could overcome my fear of flying alone.
After rereading the email, I thought maybe my friend who
lives in the San Diego area would be interested in going. Inspired by her
reply, “yes!” I forged ahead. After charging the conference registration fee
and hotel room on my Visa, all I had left to do was book my flight.
I knew I could cancel my room and get my money back from the
conference, but once I paid for my airfare there was no turning back.
A few days later, late one night, I signed on to Delta’s
site and booked the flight.
Packing my suitcase the day before departure, the “what ifs”
tumbled through my head and hung with me all
the way to the airport. With my suitcase rolling along
behind me, I stopped in front of the “check in” computers, slid my Visa card in
and to my surprise navigated the process like a pro.
With my boarding pass in hand I hurried toward the “luggage
drop” line. An agent greeted me with a smile. Watching my suitcase wobble along
the conveyor belt, I prayed it would end up in San Diego. After a smooth trip
through security and a cup of coffee in hand, I made my way to Gate 19.
When they called “zone 3” I double-checked my boarding pass
and inched my way down the narrow aisle. Everything was going great as I
settled into seat 20B.
Suddenly, the pilot announced, “Sorry folks, we have a
slight delay in our departure. Should take about thirty minutes to change the
flat tire and deice the plane. Flat tire! I leaned my head back, closed my eyes and said a prayer to calm me down.
In spite of the delay, it was a smooth flight. When we finally landed in San Diego, I gathered my
luggage, slid into the back seat of a cab and soaked up the warm sunshine
flowing through the window. After checking into the hotel, I hailed another cab
and went to visit an old neighbor who lived across the street from my family in
Minneapolis in the 1950s. When I rang the doorbell, my Japanese friend, Art,
greeted me with a huge smile and a hug. A month shy of ninety-eight, he still
had a sharp mind and a great sense of humor. We shared stories about life in
the 1950s, his memories of the war years and the friendship between our two families.
The next day as the conference started, I looked for Cherie,
but she hadn’t arrived yet. I worried that she might have canceled at the last
minute due to health problems that had plagued her for the past several years.
I hoped she was okay.
I attended the first session alone. When it was over, I
spied Cherie, healthy and vibrant, standing by the registration table. As soon
as our eyes met, smiles spread across our faces and we wrapped our arms around
each other in long hug.
Over the next three days, we studied our schedules deciding
which sessions to do together. Every so often we’d sit down and revise our
plan, laughing as we crossed out one session and drew arrows to our new
choices. Five minutes later, we stared at our scribbled notes and laughed as we tried to remember where we were headed and
what we had decided.
The next morning, Cherie missed a couple of sessions so she could
rest. Her health is better, but she still gets fatigued if she pushes herself
too hard. On Sunday, I attended the morning session alone. The speaker, Bhava
Ram (Brad Willis), a former NBC war correspondent, shared his amazing story of
facing death and returning to a healthy life through the use of Yoga and other
natural, self-healing approaches. He ended the session with a breathing
exercise— just what I needed before heading home.
After a tearful “goodbye” to Cherie, I left San Diego
recharged and energized. As the plane lifted off, a calm flowed over me. I
wasn’t worried about lost luggage or much of anything else—well, except
crashing. My successful solo flight had proved, I could spread my wings and fly!
Read more about my grief journey challenges in my memoir, Twenty-Eight Snow Angels: A Widow's Story of Love, Loss and Renewal at http://www.outskirtspress.com/snowangels Available in ebook and paperback.
FACING MY FIRST CHRISTMAS AFTER THE LOSS OF MY HUSBAND
by Diane Dettmann
With the holidays just days ahead and many people coping with the loss of a loved one, I thought I'd share an excerpt from my memoir, Twenty-Eight Snow Angels: A Widow's Story of Love, Loss and Renewal. On June 30, 2000, my loving husband died. Alone and broken, I struggled to make sense of my life. When December rolled around, the holidays hit me hard. With the support of my sister and her family, I made it through that first Christmas. Often family and friends don't know what to do to support you in those dark days of grief, sometimes all it takes is for them to be there for you.
On Christmas Eve day, I stuffed my sweats into an overnight bag, along with
John’s picture, and headed to my sister’s. Christmas songs whirled through the
car as I drove north along County Road 18. As I passed through Stillwater,
couples holding hands and a few last- minute shoppers shuffled along the
sidewalks, gazing into store windows. The holiday music and lonely drive threw
me into a panic. I gripped the steering wheel and searched for a place on the
scenic road to turn around. I didn’t want to worry my sister, so I kept
driving. To calm myself, I shut off the radio and pushed an Indian flute music
tape into the cassette player. Giant pine trees and snow drifts flashed by the
windows. I forced myself to focus on the gray road ahead while the gentle flute
music calmed me.
Standing in the entryway, I set my shopping bag of gifts on the floor and
stomped the snow off my boots. Mary sprinted up the steps and hugged me. She
squashed my coat into the hall closet. When I walked down the steps into the
living room more hugs and Merry Christmases greeted me. My friend Paula jumped
up from the couch, wrapped her arms around me and whispered, “Glad you came.”
After dinner, laughter and holiday music filled the room. With amber logs
glowing in the fireplace, we toasted family and friends. Like a bandage over a
fresh wound, the festive mood hid my pain while we sat around the tree, sipped
our drinks and took turns opening gifts. My brother-in-law snapped photos of
Paula, Mary and me sitting on the hearth. Wearing a black sweater and the
silver seagull necklace John bought me at our favorite art gallery on the North
Shore of Lake Superior, I stared at the camera and tried to smile. When the
flash went off my brother-in-law joked, “Ah, come on girls, give me a smile.”
With the fire crackling behind us, I
pushed a fake smile across my face as the flash went off. After everyone left
we picked up the scraps of wrapping paper, the empty beverage glasses and said
goodnight. Standing alone in my niece’s bedroom I realized I had forgotten to
take my antidepressant pill. After brushing my teeth, I washed the pill down
with a glass of water, clicked the bedroom door closed, and pulled John’s photo
out of my travel bag. Dressed in my sweats I lay on the bed, brushing his cheek
with my finger . . .
Christmas morning arrived with partly cloudy skies and a glimmer of
sunshine. In our pajamas, we sipped coffee and opened more presents. Halfway
through the morning, I crashed. I wanted to go home. The smell of ham roasting in
the oven nauseated me. Mary insisted I stay for dinner. To calm the grief
rumbling inside me, I walked upstairs to the master bedroom and curled up on
the bed. I took deep breaths, determined to make the pain go away. Nothing
helped. Mary appeared at the door with an afghan in her arms. She smoothed the
handmade throw over me and asked if I was hungry. I shook my head. She rubbed
my arm and closed the door behind her.
Read more about the ups and downs of my widow journey in Twenty-Eight Snow Angels: A Widow's Story of Love, Loss and Renewal in ebook and paperback.. Information at http://www.outskirtspress.com/snowangels
Courageous Footsteps: A WWII Novel by Diane Dettmann
By Diane Donovan, Senior Reviewer, Midwest Reviews
The majority of novels about World War II are directed to adult
audiences, but Courageous Footsteps is a story for teens and presents the
experiences of Yasu and Haro Sakamoto, who are removed (along with their
family) from their Glenville, California home and interred in a concentration
All ages will find Courageous Footsteps a gripping, eye-opening
approach, for several reasons. One is its ability to provide a stark contrast
between the comfortable, middle-class American lifestyle experienced by the
family at the novel's opening with life behind barbed wire fences after they
are removed from their home.
Few other novels, adult or teen, so adequately portray the emotions,
daily experiences, and struggles of the Japanese during this period of time.
From the moment Pearl Harbor is bombed and war is declared with the Japanese to
the President's orders to take away their lives, Courageous Footsteps
progresses swiftly and documents the quick rise of fear and its accompanying
prejudice, which place the family in constant danger and flux.
Nearly overnight, the Sakamotos become enemies of the people and are
attacked, beaten, and maligned by strangers who only see their Japanese faces
and not their American identities. Their personal possessions (radios, guns,
cameras, binoculars) are confiscated by the Army in the name of national
security, the family is forced to do the best it can under prison conditions,
and camp regulations take over their formerly-free lives.
How does a family stay together and preserve their shattered dreams
under such conditions? Courageous Footsteps is as much a story of this survival
process as it is a documentation of one girl's evolving determination to escape
this impossible life and resume her dreams.
Teens and new adult audiences alike will find Courageous Footsteps
evocative, compelling, and hard to put down.
"I want people working through grief to know they are
strong, capable, resilient human beings who have the strength to survive the
death of their spouse and find themselves again—maybe even for the first time." -Diane Dettmann
After the death of my husband in 2000, my world as I knew it splintered into tiny pieces. Everything in my life changed including myself. I wanted my life back the way it was. I hated the new world I was thrown into and fought the changes imposed on me.
I missed our evening visits over a glass of wine after a long day at work, his smile as we said goodbye in the morning and the love notes he left on the refrigerator when we were apart. My new social status changed who I was. Some friends stayed by my side even in the hardest moments of grief while others bailed on me. Everywhere I looked were couples in restaurants visiting over a romantic meal or hand-in-hand strolling down the sidewalk. Just the sight of them made my loneliness worse.
Trying to make sense of my life, I read books about the "stages of grief" and honestly believed once I got through the first year, I would be fine. After months of tears, anger and pleading with God to bring John back, I finally accepted the truth-John was gone forever. Whether I liked it or not, I needed to find meaning in life again. The process of rebuilding took a great deal of energy and soul-searching. I spent six years alone rediscovering activities I enjoyed before I met John. I created an art studio in my basement where I could dabble in painting. Eased myself back into exercising by starting with short walks and eventually adding more steps. Grief is like exercise, easy to avoid, but once you lace up your tennis shoes and take the first step more steps follow.
During those years alone, I took road trips to Montana to visit a cousin and my favorite Minnesota resort where I hiked and spent time writing late into the night. I poured my pain, sadness and grief into notebooks. Those entries eventually evolved into my book, Twenty-Eight Snow Angels: A Widow's Story of Love, Loss and Renewal. As I wrote the book, I questioned why I was sharing such a personal story with the world. The book took seven years to write with lots of starts, stops and doubts. In 2011, I put my fears behind me and released it into the universe. I have shared my story with a variety of groups over the years. The Kok Funeral Home invites me each year to share my grief story with others who have lost a loved one. After one presentation, the after care director wrote: "You are such an inspiration for grieving hearts. Your transparency and down to earth wisdom are deeply appreciated."
Sixteen years have passed since the loss of my loving husband, my life has moved in a new direction as I carry the memories with me. The pain has softened over time, but the loss will always be a part of me.
"During my long journey I realized, life on earth is a process of sunrises and sunsets; in between you live and breathe what life brings you."
-Diane Dettmann, Author of Twenty-Eight Snow Angels
STRENGTH, A WOMAN OF VALUE Life and Loss Take Strength and Courage
universe is made of stories, not of atoms.” Muriel Rukeyser
story adapted from Miriam Daughter of
Finnish Immigrants (Outskirts Press), a book coauthored by Diane Dettmann
and her aunt, Miriam Dloniak Kaurala. Book reprinted in 2008 in memory of
grandmother holds no awards recognizing her accomplishments. Her name is not
embossed on a star in Hollywood or etched on a granite memorial wall. Yet like
many women of the past, she made valuable contributions to the quality of her
family’s life and to the lives of others. Sharing stories of the strength and
perseverance of everyday women of the past inspires women of today to see the
value in their own lives.
My grandmother, Hilja Lukkarila
Kaurala, was born on October 8, 1888 in Simo, Finland located a short distance
from the border of Sweden. When she was twenty-one, she packed up her
belongings, left her family behind and came to America. After three years of
working as a housekeeper for the wealthy members of society she became
disillusioned with her unfulfilled dreams of America. She returned to Finland,
but life there was dull and unpromising. In 1913, on the ship coming back to
America, she met my grandfather, Paul Kaurala. She entered the United States
through Ellis Island, my grandfather through Montreal, Canada. Some how they
found their way to northern Minnesota where they reconnected and married in
Before she married, my grandmother
like many of the young women immigrants in the early 1900s, worked as a
domestic. Determined to build a life in the new country and become an American,
she took jobs as a cook, laundress, childcare worker, and seamstress. After she
married my grandfather, they rented a house in Ely, Minnesota where she devoted
herself entirely to making a home for her family. In 1923 they outgrew their
house and moved to a small piece of land in the country that my grandfather had
purchased before they were married.
With four children under the age of
six and a baby on the way, Hilja tackled the rigors of life in the wilderness
with nothing but her two hands to help. My grandfather purchased an old,
two-room house with a small attic, which he hauled to the site with horses. The
bed bug infested house was not exactly my grandmother’s “dream” house, but she
used her resourcefulness and ingenuity to turn the house into a home. Every
Saturday for the first year she saturated a rag with kerosene and wiped down
the coil springs on the beds. Then she dusted the mattresses with Watkins
Bedbug powder. Her diligence paid off, within the year the bedbugs disappeared.
The first year in the wilderness of
northern Minnesota the family faced chickenpox, measles, and the bitter cold
winter, but my grandmother never gave up. With her hands, always busy, she
nurtured her newborn son, picked berries for pies, knitted warm woolen mittens,
and created clothing out of cloth flour sacks. Life on the farm required a
commitment to family and hard work. Hilja never hesitated to pick up a hay rake
during the hot summer hay season or take the long cold walk to the barn in the
subzero winter to milk cows. There were times that my grandmother probably
thought of giving up or yearned for a more rewarding life, but she forged
forward committing her skills and talents to her family’s survival and success.
During the week my grandfather
worked in the mines in Ely fifteen miles north of the farm. On the bitter cold
winter nights, with wolves howling in the distance, alone Hilja gathered her
four young daughters around their wooden kitchen table. Under the glow of a
flickering kerosene light with a wood fire crackling in the stove, she taught
the girls how to embroider. Even the youngest three-year old daughter joined in
with a needle, thread and small piece of fabric. The long Minnesota winters
provided the women with many happy hours of stitching and chatting that bonded
During World War II my grandmother
belonged to a local Victory Club. At one of the meetings she suggested the
group make cookies to send to the servicemen. When she was voted down, she came
home with a firm resolution to undertake the project herself. Sugar rationing
was in effect at the time but my wise grandmother had purchased a fifty-pound
sack of sugar before the rationing started. For days Hilja and one of her
daughters baked cookies. They mailed thirty boxes overseas so each soldier from
their community received a box. When the thank-you notes arrived, my
grandmother treasured each one. Four months later, she had a shoebox full of
notes from grateful servicemen. She cherished those special notes until her
death in 1965.
Strong, courageous women surround us
every day at work, in our neighborhoods and in the broader community. Like my
grandmother many of them positively impact other’s lives and make a difference
in our world. I hope my grandmother’s story inspires other women to see their
strengths, value and potential. By sharing our stories we empower others!
Diane Dettmann, a writer,
teacher and presenter, is interested in issues related to women and education. She
is the author of Courageous Footsteps: A
WWII Novel and Twenty-Eight Snow
Angels A Widow’s Story of Love, Loss and Renewal. Diane is currently
working on the sequel to Courageous
Footsteps that will be released in the summer of 2016. She is also the co-author of Miriam Daughter of Finnish Immigrants
and a contributing author for the national Women’s Voices for Change
organization in New York City. Information about her books available at https://www.amazon.com/author/dianedettmann
order autographed copies contact Diane at firstname.lastname@example.org