Through the Eyes of a Widow

Grief Diaries

Collateral blessings, a term describing something good that results from something bad.

Today marks the release of the 35th book bearing my name. A book filled with stories by widows who share their own personal insight into the unspoken challenges of losing a husband, and the emotional, mental and social shifts she’s forced to reckon with in the aftermath.

I didn’t lose a husband, but I lost a child. Our daughter Aly.

As I fought to restore balance to my world, I found comfort in stories by those who walked before me. They gave me hope.

Grief Diaries was born and built on this belief. By leaning on and learning from one another, our stories become a lifeline in a griefphobic society.

Each book offers family and friends a better understanding of why their loved one acts the way they do.

Scholars and clinicians learn from the rich spectrum of unfiltered narrations by people from all backgrounds.

When I lost Aly, I didn’t set out to do anything other than breathe. The collateral blessing is that her death led to something far bigger than either her or me. It birthed a village of people brave enough to share the truths of their loss—and what hope means to them today.

I will celebrate right after I blow my nose.

Lynda Cheldelin Fell  XOXO

Grief Diaries

Grief attack at the grocery story

Grief Diaries

Lately I was becoming a bit of a shut-in, and if I didn’t go food shopping I’d go hungry another day. Having exhausted the dry goods and freezer supply, my stomach grumbled in agreement.

I had to first take a shower so as not to offend anyone with my funk. Feeling a little revived and more alive, I hopped into my Jeep before I could change my mind.

Wet hair blowing in the wind, head boppin’ to the bumpin’ music. I had to stay motivated because I was on my way to what my depression had convinced me was a battlefield. Landmines everywhere in the form of memories threatening to strike.

Today I didn’t walk into the grocery store, I sauntered—an effect of having some pep in my step for the first time in a long time. Armored with my favorite protection amulet, most soothing gemstone ring, and my trusty pocket knife.

In the very first aisle I caught a glimpse which took my breath away and stopped me in my tracks.

A twenty-one-year-old man-child was buying beer. The puffed-up way he walked, strumming the whiskers on his chin as he carefully considered his choice, suggested it was his first time.

I had to steel myself at the sight. I wasn’t armed for this.

Brandon’s body had been found mutilated just a week shy of his twenty-first birthday. On his birthday, his father spent it in court for the arraignment of his suspected killer. His mother spent it at a funeral home planning his services.

In the grocery store, I took a deep breath, shook my head and put up my defenses. Trying to stay present by focusing on the task at hand of restocking provisions. I’ve always been a healthy eater, sticking mainly to the produce aisle and the perimeter of the store. I drink only the three necessities: black coffee, water and beer, though not necessarily in that order anymore.

I didn’t think about the case of coke, nor did I give a second thought to the Mac-n-Cheese or easy squirt jelly as I placed them in the carriage. In fact, it didn’t hit me until I was in the frozen section grabbing DiGiorno’s stuffed-crust pepperoni pizza, buy two get one free, that I froze.

Too late this time to steel myself from the oncoming grief attack.

My heart refused to accept reality and I found myself grabbing supplies for what had been our regular Friday pizza night. I was buying nephew-approved foods, as Brandon called them, eager to have them on hand for our next aunty date. Except there won’t be any more aunty dates with my nephew Brandon. Ever.

He’s not missing anymore like he was for six weeks. He’s dead. Murdered.

He’s not going to pop over. Not. Ever. Again.

Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee. The hands can’t hit what the eyes can’t see. ~Muhammed Ali

The weight of this truth hit like Muhammed Ali and stung like a bee. Grief is the perfect TKO.

With weak knees, slumped shoulders, and eyes heavy with unshed tears, I knew I wouldn’t be able to duck and cover this time. The blows landed and I was about to go down. I made a beeline to the bathroom for cover.

As I shut the stall door, my shoulders began their familiar shudder. I leaned against the door and let the tears flow. I just had to ride it out.

As women came and went, I was helpless against the onslaught. Their concern and kind words exasperated my breathlessness. All I could mutter was, “It’s grief. It’ll pass.” With the breathy whisper of a shy little girl, I said, “Thank you.”

If I didn’t sit down, I would fall down. So I went to the sink and, leaning on it for support, splashed my red swollen face with cold water.

Just then an employee came in to check on me. I swayed on my feet fighting for control, and she offered me a chair and a bottle of water. She introduced herself as Nancy and asked genuinely for whom I was grieving. I told her about my beloved nephew Brandon. She was quiet, empathetic and—most important—not the least bit patronizing.

She surmised, “He felt like a son to you, didn’t he?”

I silently nodded my head. I wouldn’t dare to say it out loud, but a crucial piece of me is gone and I’m lost in a daily struggle of being here without him, the present reality too much to bare. With a hoarse voice I thanked her for her care and concern, to which Nancy replied, “We are all in this together, just helping each other along.”

I left the bathroom and shuffled to the register, leaning on the handlebar of the carriage. My unsteady gait, red face and runny nose revealed the heart on my sleeve. Grief has a way of breaking down walls and stealing what’s left of one’s dignity.

A young teen tentatively approached me and said, “I hope your day gets better.”

Bless him. He saw heartache on my face and tried to shine a little light in the dark. Wishing I could hug him but feeling too damaged to dare, I whispered over and over, “Thank you,” trying to convey my gratitude yet unable to feign a smile.

I returned from the battlefield battered and bruised. The grief offensive defeated my resilience defense and left me feeling listless.

I don’t remember the drive home but when I got there, I tossed the perishables into the fridge and retreated to sleep.

Grief had won today’s fight. But if I’m lucky, I’ll see Brandon in my dreams so I can wake to fight another day.

-Sarah Mercier

In loving memory of Brandon

Grief Diaries

Near-death experience: Patty’s story

Near-death experiences. Do you believe they happen? If so, what is it really like on the other side where our deceased loved ones are?

Meet Patty Furino, a reverend who ministers to bereaved families. Although she had been communicating with spirit guides since childhood, she had a pivotal near-death experience at age 16 that forever changed her perspective on life—and death. Watch her story below.

Watch more interviews on Grief Diaries or our YouTube channel.

Why Katy Perry got it wrong

Lauren Engle
Dear Katy Perry,
 
I know you meant well, but last night you got it wrong.
 
You told 27-year-old American Idol contestant Lauren Engle to be strong after she auditioned in memory of her husband.
 
Why does she need to be strong?
 
The poor girl is grieving her husband who has been dead less than two years.
 
Grieving the past and fearing the future, Lauren is doing her best just to get out of bed each morning.
 
You telling her to be strong is holding her down. It’s the same as telling her not to be a wimp. To quit crying. Don’t be a baby.
 
It’s sucking her hope up in a vacuum.
 
I know you meant well, Katy, but would you tell the families who lost a loved one in the New Zealand shooting to be strong?
 
Of course not.
 
Find that contestant, wrap your arms around her, and tell her that one day it won’t always feel so raw. But until then, it’s okay to cry.
 
Shared sorrow is half a sorrow—Finnish proverb. It means to support someone in their time of need. Because that gives them hope. It helps them go from zero to being their own hero.
 
With support and love, one day Lauren will be her own champion. Please don’t rob her of that opportunity.
 
Thank you.

Lynda Cheldelin Fell  XOXO

Lauren Engle

The power of joy to heal a broken heart.

Grief Diaries

I love babies. My babies. Your babies. Everybody’s babies.

There’s just something so wondrous about these tiny beings. They’re innocence and pure love rolled like a little magical burrito.

Once a week I sneak away from the office to volunteer in the neonatal ICU. I cuddle, feed, change diapers, and soothe.

As they look into my eyes, I know I’m holding future teachers, humanitarians, astronauts, Nobel prize winners, and world leaders.

I’m also holding future gang members, addicts, and lost souls.

Grief Diaries

It doesn’t matter who I’m holding because in that moment, I give as much love as I can and hope that my little imprint will carry them through life.

When I’m done, I leave with a heart full of gratitude because those tiny babies gave me so much more than I gave them.

They gave me joy.

Doing something that makes your heart sing is a powerful healing modality.

When heartbreak and sadness rule your world, do whatever it is that brings a smile to your face and lifts the heaviness of your heart.

If you don’t know what that is, then go find it. And don’t stop looking until you do.

Then do it as if your life depends on it.

Because it does.

-Lynda Cheldelin Fell XOXO

Tomorrow is your birthday

Grief Diaries
Dear Lovey,
 
Tomorrow is your birthday. Just yesterday I could hear your voice, smell your hair, touch your skin. It’s been nine years but the pain still runs deep. So very, very deep.
 
They say the pain changes with time. It hasn’t. But I have. My coping skills are stronger. I am stronger. I’m a better person with more compassion. And a heightened awareness of a world in need of kindness.
 
But tonight the pain runs deep. So very, very deep.
 
When the tears fall, I need to retreat from time to time to the Wailing Tent where I’m among sisters who speak my loss language. I suppose I’ll always need them when the pain runs this deep.
 
Most days the sun shines gloriously bright and I am grateful. Today is not one of those days, though. I want to tell you happy birthday but the words just won’t come. I know I’m a few hours early anyway, so maybe the words will come tomorrow.
 
It feels like yesterday when I could hear your voice, smell your hair, and touch your skin.
 
I wish it were yesterday.
 
Happy birthday, Lovey. I love you. XOXO
 
Love,

The Wailing Tent

The Wailing Tent

Dear newly bereaved mother,

Welcome to the sisterhood of the wailing tent. With profound condolences, I know this greeting will soon be forgotten, for your heart and soul have sustained a terrible blow. The shock known as The Fog will accompany you for some time, greatly impacting your memory.  So I offer you this written welcome to refer to when your recollection falters.

The wailing tent is an honored place where only mothers with a broken spirit can enter. Admittance is gained not with an ID card bearing your name, but with the profound sorrow freshly etched on your heart.  Membership is free, for you have already paid the unfathomable price.  The directions to the wailing tent are secret, available only to mothers who speak our loss language of everlasting grief.  No rules are posted, no hours are noted.  There is no hierarchy, no governing body.  Your membership has no expiration date—it is lifelong.  The refuge offered within its walls does not judge members based on age, religious belief, or social status.  You can hang your camouflage and mask outside, and if you can’t make it past the door we will surround you with love right where you lay.

The wailing tent is a shelter where mothers shed anguished tears among her newfound sisters, a haven where all forms of wailing are honored, understood, and accepted.  In the beginning, you will be very afraid and will hate the wailing tent and everything it stands for. You will flail, thrash about, and spew vile words in protest. You will fight to be free of the walls, wishing desperately to offer a plea bargain for a different tent, learn a different language. Those emotions will last for some time.

Your family and friends cannot accompany you here. The needs of the wailing tent are invisible to them and though they will try, they simply cannot comprehend the language nor fathom the disembodied, guttural howls heard within.

In the beginning, your stays here will seem endless. Over time, the need for your visits will change and eventually you will observe some mothers talking, even smiling, rather than wailing.  Those are the mothers who have learned to balance profound anguish with moments of peace, though they still need to seek refuge among us from time to time.  Do not judge those mothers as callused or strong, for they have endured profound heartache to attain the peace they have found. Their visits here are greatly valued, for their hard earned wisdom offers hope that we, too, will learn to balance the sadness in our hearts.

Lastly, you need not flash your ID card or introduce yourself each time you visit, for we know who you are.  You are one of us, an honorary lifelong sister of the wailing tent.  Welcome, my wailing sister.

Fondly,

The Sisterhood of the Wailing TentThe Wailing Tent

Written by Lynda Cheldelin Fell  01/26/14

 

Why suffering yields the deepest lessons

Grief Diaries
I was asked this morning by a dear friend what the purpose of life is. Why is it some people face more heartache than seems fair?
 
Life unfolds differently for each of us. I believe we are here to learn lessons for our own growth. We don’t learn from the easy stuff, and great challenges often yield the deepest lessons.
 
Why, then, do some people go through life unscathed while others suffer greatly?
 
Sometimes we’re the pupil meant to learn something from our own suffering. Sometimes we’re the teacher imparting wisdom to those who witness our suffering.
 
When faced with great challenges, we have two options. One is to resist the change and stay outside immersed in the storm. Two is to surrender to something we can’t change, and tend to our wound inside. Once the storm has passed and the wound less raw, you can re-enter life using the wisdom you learned.
 
You are the author of your own life story. Every sentence, paragraph, and page from cover to cover. What do you want to write what has yet to be written? You alone get to decide.
 
My answer to the question about the purpose of life is that it’s a glorious and mysterious classroom. Sometimes we’re the pupil and sometimes the teacher.
 
It’s up to each of us what we teach and learn.
 
Lynda Cheldelin Fell XOXO
Grief Diaries

Employers don’t know what they don’t know

Grief Diaries

Her name was Kristen. As editor of Human Resources Executive magazine, she contacted me for an interview about employee grief two years ago. Her own story is startling and sad, yet I was moved by her courage to publish an article about a big problem.

Her story? She was covering an expo in Vegas when she got a call that changed her world: her husband died from a heart attack. In shock Kristen returned to her hotel, packed her bags, faced a sleepless night, grabbed a morning taxi, sat through security and then a 6-hour flight home in mind-numbing despair.

Because she had used up her FMLA leave caring for her father in hospice earlier that year, Kristen was left with the allotted 3 days of bereavement leave—the national standard.

Three days to plan a funeral. And attend.

Three days to mourn.

Three days to transition from two to one. No longer part of a pair.

Three days before returning to the demands of her job.

Three days.

It just feels wrong. Yet employers don’t know what they don’t know.

But we can help them. Together we can educate and inspire change for a better way.

How? Ask questions. Share experiences. Talk strategies. What kind of bereavement leave does your employer offer? If you don’t know, they probably don’t either.

Thankfully, they’re starting to listen. I just received word that Glen Lord and I will be presenting Managing Grief in the Workplace at a second national conference this year, this one in Salt Lake City.

I know we face tremendous work ahead. But it’s a challenge worth fighting.

Because employees are people. People matter.

You matter.

Together we can make change. And the world is starting to listen.

Lynda Cheldelin Fell

Grief Diaries