OFF LIMITS

Amid all the gossip about the royal siblings there’s a repeated comment that should be off limits.  It’s the claim by people with no  personal knowledge of the brothers that Princess Diana’s death was harder on Harry than on William.

Really?  How do they know? By what standard did  they measure the brothers’ grief at the loss  of their mother?

Yes, Harry is the younger one and was, perhaps, more vulnerable.  Yes, William had a king’s crown to look forward to. But such comparisons are odious and usuallybased  on ignorance.. It reminds me of the question thrown at me when my partner died many ears after I’d lost my husband. I was  often asked, “Which death was harder for you?” Should I have measured  by the number of tears I shed for each one?

The fact is, there’s no measuring tape or ruler that can record the depth of someone’s feelings.

When my friend’s husband died after  a devoted marriage of 50 years, she apologized for not being able to cry.  Was she in some category  labelled “unfeeling” by observers? Or was  there too vast a reservoir of feelings for her to give into the release of  tears,  even privately? I only know that this dry-eyed woman lasted less than two years without the man who had been her whole life.

Judgments about what other people should or shouldn’t do ( wear,say, feel) should be off  limits, too. When I interviewed  bereaved people for my book, “Turning Toward Tomorrow,” I spoke with a widow who had found new  love with her husband’s  best friend. Was she one of those woman who “has to have a man in her life,” as neighbors cattily remarked? Couldn’t it be that the strength she gained from this relationship enabled her to go on living?

This isn’t a ”true or false” quiz. The only truth is  locked within each person. Does Prince William’s regal silence  mean he’s  less traumatized  than his  spill-all brother?  Or is William’s wound simply  buried deeper? Or perhaps he’s just learned to live with it?

We need to stop thinking we’re mind readers – or heart readers –  and respect a grieving person’s inner struggle, especially since we may be on the receiving end one day! We should also avoid judging how much grief anyone has the right to. My grandmother has been gone for decades, but I still remember what a hospital aide said to her when my grandfather  was dying: “You’re lucky you had him for so many years.” Perhaps it was the aide’s version of sympathy or maybe she was speaking from a hidden  wound of her own.  Whatever, mygrandmother’s blunt reply was: “What the hell difference does that make now?”

Grandm­a  was absolutely on target. Losing someone we love, someone who may have been the most important person in our world for many years – or one year  – can be anguish. Grief may be mixed with a secret sense of relief that the ordeal is over (which brings its own guilt), or mixed with unresolved issues, but that should be solely between  the two people involved.   It’s not for us to judge what  we can’t really know.

As the  great author Willa Cather wrote, “The heart of another is a dark forest.”   It  deserves the respect of “No Trespassing,”  unless we’re invited in.

Website:www.annehosansky.com

Books: “Widow’s Walk” – available through iUniverse.com; “Turning Toward Tomorrow”-–xLibris.com; “Come and Go” – ∫ookBaby.com; “Ten Women of fValor” and “Role Play” – Amazon and Amazon Kindle.

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LOST. . . AND FOUND

“It isn’t as if you were married!”  Those callous words were thrown at a woman who was grieving the breakup of a relationship.. But it doesn’t require a wedding ring to make this kind of loss painful. Even if it’s not a legal divorce it’s an emotional one, and brings the same challenge of putting yourself back together.

I spoke with someone who fought his way through this ordeal. Ben Kassoy, a 33-year-old poet living in Los Angeles, shared the frank story of his “first mature relationship.”
He was still in his twenties when a friend introduced him to a statuesque young beauty. The immediate effect was “electric,” Ben says. “Sparks flew!” Apparently S (initial to protect her privacy) felt the same way. They became involved in a passionate affair that Ben hoped would be permanent.. After two years, S paid an overdue visit to her family for July 4th weekend. When she returned she called Ben and said they needed to talk. He hurried over, never imagining the devastating words he was greeted with: “It’s over.”

“She didn’t seem able to articulate a reason,” he says, “maybe she didn’t know why.. She just kept saying that she’d become less and less happy.” Was he shocked? “That’s an understatement. Tectonic plates shifted under my feet.”

He also felt humiliated at not having seen this coming. “I had thought I was on solid ground with her .”Although no ne blamed him for the breakup an avalanche of criticism came from his “internal monologue., “ he says. “I even made a list of all the things I hated about myself.”
Lost and confused, he made a common mistake: plunging into another affair. As many of us discover, rebounds don’t usually work. “Everything was in the shadow of my relationship with S . The affair was brief because I wasn’t ready, but this woman got hurt, which made me feel even lousier. My sense of myself was completely damaged.”

At that point he could have slid dangerously downhill into clinical depression or worse. “I had a lot of feelings I shoved down.” Courageously Ben faced a piviitol challenge. “Before I could have a good relationship with anyone, I needed to feel whole again. “
Recognizing that he couldn’t do it alone,  he began seeing a therapist. He also “processed ” his feelings with his supportive family and a few close friends. “It wasn’t easy and it wasn’t quick, but I began to see mself with more clarity. I even gained a different perspective, that the breakup with S had a rightness about. It. Although our relationship was fantastic for that time in our lives, it wasn’t what either of us needed in the long run. We had completely different styles when it came to sharing our feelings. Of course, partners cas work on improving this, but we were worlds apart.”

It’s a dramatic contrast to the relationship he’s in now. For some three years later, he met Kristen, an attractive young actor. They’re together in what Ben describes as a “more communicative” relationship, helped by the work he did on himself. “I’m 100% stronger than I was with S,” he admits. It’s also affected his poetry. “She’s my inspiration and a big part of my support system,. You need a partner who understands the stresses of your work, the ups and downs you go through.”

What additional advice would he offer anyone looking for a new relationship? “Find someone who allows you to be the person you want to be!”

Ben Kassoy’s poems have been published in over a dozen literary magazines .He’s currently completing a full-length poetry collection..

MIDNIGHT CHALLENGE

The enforced gaiety known as New Year’s Eve demands hailing midnight with champagne and light-heartedness. The alcohol’s easy enough to get, but a light heart may be beyond our reach. So I find myself remembering some savvy advice from a few people who learned how to manage that challenging night.

One of the more unlikely is George, a shy Colorado widower who usually didn’t say much at all.His wife had been their “social director,” as is true of many couples. So their friends had been mainly his wife’s. After she died everyone sort of forgot about George, since he was so quiet he easy to overlook. However, a few years after his wife’s death his sister insisted he accept an invitation he’d been sent by a former colleague. He grudgingly went to the party, but it was as if he was barely there. He just sat silently in a corner devouring the hors d’oeuvres. (Like the majority of us, he finds food a comfort!)

But when midnight came George  saw all the couples embracing. “A tidal wave of loneliness hit me,” he admits. “I suddenly realized how alone I was.” Without thinking he blurted out what was on his mind: ‘I sure could use one of those hugs.”

“I shocked myself,” he says, remembering the sudden silence. Then there was a burst of laughter, and he was engulfed in hugs .

”Ever since that night I’ve practiced asking for what I want,” he told me. “As my wife used to say, ‘Don’t expect people to be mind- readers.’”

Tess, a staunch Vermont widow, wasn’t even interested in hugs. “After my husband died I refused to go to any parties,” she days.“ But my next door neighbor made such a fuss inviting me I decided I’d go to be polite and if it was too hard I’d just leave. I was okay until it got near midnight and I saw couples signaling each other. I realized they were getting ready for that midnight kiss.” When 12:00 struck, Tess was nowhere in sight. “I hid in the bathroom,” she confesses.
“What a terrible experience,” I said.
“Difficult, but not terrible,’ she snapped. “I reserve ‘terrible’ for real catastrophes like earthquakes.”

Tess then created her own New Year’s routine. “I get copies of three favorite movies, blow my budget on an expensive dish like lobster, drink a glass – or two – of wine and have a perfectly decent time.”

This type of solo celebrating is followed by many people who are alone, especially with socializing limited by Covid. A divorced friend of mine who’s usually strict about nutritious eating, has a “wicked feast” as she calls it. “I splurge on the most fattening foods I can think of and open a bottle of French champagne.”
“Just for yourself?” I asked.
“ I don’t allow any ‘just me’ thinking. I’ve discovered I’m good company for myself.”

A hopeful New Year to all!

Website:www.annehosansky.com
Books: “Widow’s Walk” – available through iUniverse.com; “Turning Toward Tomorrow”-–xLibris.com; “Come and Go” – BookBaby.com; “Ten Women of Valor” and “Role Play” – Amazon and Amazon Kindle.

A CHANUKAH MEMORY Surviving Loss Series

Delete December! That was my bitter mood when I faced my first holiday season as a widow. It was a week before Chanukah, the Jewish “Festival of Lights.” It’s traditional to light a candle for eight nights in memory of the miracle that happened in ancient times. When the Israelites reclaimed their temple in Jerusalem they wanted to rededicate it, but there was only enough oil for one night. Miraculously the lamp burned for eight nights!

My family had always celebrated the joyous holiday together, with my children helping me light the candles. But this year I would be alone. Not even the children were coming. I think they couldn’t cope with their father’s absence

““I’m going to ignore Chanukah,” I told my bereavement counselor.
“How are you going to ignore your feelings about it?” he asked. Clever, these counselors.

Then I got a surprising phone call. A nun at the hospice where my husband had passed away was inviting me to a memorial service for everyone who had died there during the year. I told her I wasn’t up to a service for my husband. “It’s for you, too,” she said. “His pain is over, but yours is continuing.”

It was so rare to find anyone who understood my feelings that I agreed to come.

But when I saw that gray stone building again, I almost turned back. Walking into the familiar lounge I saw a small gathering, I guess most people couldn’t bear to come. There were more women than men, which was understandable since widows far outnumber widowers. They were mostly middle-aged and older, but even, shockingly, there were a few children. A four-year -old girl stared at me, her somber expression too old for so young a child.

Before I could escape a nun began the service with a prayer of St. Francis: ”May I never seek so much to be consoled as to console.” The words stopped me. I thought, maybe when talking to my children, I should focus more on their loss than my own, and give them the full unselfish consolation they needed. It might be better for all of us if I relied on my peers. Or myself? But I was still a long way from that.

I still have the handmade program we were each handed that night, created by one of the nuns. She said she wanted to illustrate what she knew we were feeling. The childish drawing was both a Christmas tree and a menorah (the candleabra for the Chanukah candles). But she had drawn only half of each. “Half,” the nun explained, ”because of what’s missing for you.” She pointed to the yellow color crayoned around the symbols. “That’s for the glow that comes from remembering.”

Then, in that Catholic hospital, a young man with a guitar sang  a Chanukah song! The lyrics were written by Peter Yarrow, of Peter,Paul and Mary fame. I heard a few people singing, “Light one candle for the strength we need to never become our own foe.” More voices were joining in, faces brighter. Suddenly I heard myself singing.”What is the memory we value so highly that we keep it alive in that flame?”

A week later I lit the first Chanukah candle.
.   .   .   .
I wish each of you who celebrate Christmas or Chanukah or Kwanza, the miracle of hope.

[Adapted from “Widow’s Walk”]
Website: www.annehosansky.com

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HOLIDAY HURDLE

Thanksgiving – traditionally celebrated with family and friends – is challenging for those of us whose spouse or parent or sibling is missing. The lonely feeling that might ordinarily be softened by visits isn’t always possible these Covid days if it involves travel. Friends who may live nearby have their own families to turn to. If we dccide to host a celebration ourselves , or are fortunate enough to be invited to invited to a holiday dinner, seeing the togetherness of couples can make us even more aware of that proverbial “empty chair.”

Yet we can find ways to include that missing person. I make time for private talks with my husband and my sister, telling them how I miss them. It’s what Longfellow called “the private anniversaries of the heart.”

Hosting the dinner by yourself can be exhausting without the familiar helping hands. I always made an apple pie from scratch, but the energy-saver was my husband’s peeling and slicing the apples. The first time I was the host it was a matter of (misplaced) pride to serve everything by myself. But several of my guests said ,”We would feel better if you’d let us help.” So I did – and everyone was more relaxed

Children who may previously have gone to Thanksgiving parades with their father have an especially hard time. You can ask some willing substitute if he’ll fill in. If not, you can tell the children, “Let’s watch the parade together on TV.” More important, I reassure them – and myself – it’s all right to laugh, to enjoy.

Still, the reality is that nothing completely fills the gap, Sometimes whatever we do feels like a pretending game we’re not up to, and reality takes over. But to some extent reality can be what we make it. If I looked in the rearview mirror,  I’d cry all over the turkey. Instead I lighten the day by asking each person to say what she or he is grateful for. We had a a laugh from the guest who admitted, ”I’m grateful I didn’t have to cook the meal.”

Thanks don’t have to be limited to a November day. About two years ago I began saying a gratitude prayer each night before going to sleep. I start with thanks for things that happened during the day, even if sometimes it’s hard to find anything. Actually, thinking through the day I find moments that were gifts without my recognition. A friend said all she could think to be grateful for was that she’d had a good breakfast. In some areas of the world that wouldn’t be a trivial blessing!

When the great English poet Tennyson lost his most beloved friend, he composed a lengthy poem to express his grief. I find inspiration in its brave line: “Although much has been taken much remains.”

Let us find the strength to be grateful for what – and who – remain.

Website: www. annehosansky.com
Relevant books: “Widow’s Walk” – available through iUniverse.com; “Turning Toward Tomorrow”- xLibris.com; “Come and Go” – BookBaby.com. Also Amazon and Amazon kindle.

SURVIVING LOSS – A COMPETITION?

A bizarre competition erupted in my former bereavement group. Although united in grief we became divided between those whose husband or wife had died after a long illness, versus those whose spouse had died suddenly. When I volunteered that my husband ‘s final illness lasted for  23 months that had been excruciating for both of us, a woman said bitterly: ”At least you had that time together. We didn’t have the chance to say goodbye.” Her husband had gone to work one day and never returned, a heart attack.

Comments come in reverse, too. I once heard a man who had been a longtime caregiver tell a widow whose husband had died in a car crash, “You’re lucky it was quick.” (Lucky??)

Grief isn’t a competition!  Losing someone we love is heartbreaking, whether death was from a long illness or struck unexpectedly. Nor can it be measured by how long our relationship was. I’ve never forgotten a shockingly young widow in our group who told the older women, “You each had a life with your husband.  I lost mine a year after our wedding.” The heartless reply was: “You’re young, you can marry again.”

There’s no measuring rod for how much sorrow we’re left with –  nor by how many tears we shed. So many times I hear, “I can’t seem to cry,” as though that’s an infirmity.. A friend of mine who had a wonderful marriage for 50 years remained dry eyed when her heloved husband died. “Is there something wrong with me?” she asked. I happen to believe those who can cry are healthier than those carrying pent-up grief inside them. It’s even more difficult for men who were brought up to believe that tears are “unmanly.” (More about that in a future blog.)

At least let’s refrain from comparing our mourning to anyone else’s and refuse to get entangled in senseless rivalry. We can answer envious remarks thrown at us by saying something like,”We’re all in the same boat.” It helps if we recognize that bitterness and anger are usually the result of someone’s pain. We even strengthen ourselves when we’re able to offer comfort rather than combat.

                       .    .    .    .

Thanks to all of you who sent responses about the inaugural blog. Space doesn’t permit printing all of them, but I want to share two. Dr. Roberta Koepfer of Bayside, New York, applauded the “very sound suggestion ”  to ask a “ grieving (sad,depressed,ill lonely) person, ‘What would you like?’or words to that effect.”

Robert Hanson, author of the valuable book “The Thinking Person’s Guide to Climate Change”,sent an interesting question: how recently did the pervasive “sorry” for your loss” come into use? I did some research and discovered it’s actually been around for over 50 years, but what brought it into popular usage was TV.! In crime dramas such s NYPD , characters investigating a crime scene began routinely telling the bereaved “sorry about your loss” as a way to show respect without becming emotionally involved .( Proving that help can come our way through surprising “channels”!)
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Previous blogs can be found at anne-otations.me and on my website –  annehosansky.com.

Relevant books: “Widow’s Walk,” available at iUniverse.com; “Turning Toward Tomorrow,”- xLibris.com; “Come and Go” ” -BookBaby.com. Also Amazon and Amazon Kindle.

NEW! SURVIVING LOSS SERIES

Those of us coping with loss could use  lessons in self-defense. Not to fight off muggers, but comments from people who may (or may not) mean well. The common, ”You’ll get over it” – usually accompanied by, ”“It just takes time” – is insulting. (Do you have a timetable for me?) Widows, and anyone struggling with the end of an affair, often have to endure the promise that they’ll “meet someone else.” That’s akin to telling women mourning a miscarriage or stillbirth, “You’ll have other children.” As though we’re looking for stand-in’s. for the one we lost.

The reality is that the majority of people don’t know what to say to someone who is grieving. We ourselves often stumble when we’re the ones offering sympathy. When my sister also became a widow I told her,“I know how you feel.” She shot back:“The hell you do.!” Her response was rude but accurate, for even in blood relationships grieving is doesn’t come iin cookie-cutter style. When I’m subjected to that “know how you feel” remark I try to conserve my energy and imply say, “Thanks, but each of us is different.”

Of course there are remarks there’s really no answer to. When my grandmother died a callous cousin scoffed at my tears.“She was an old lady,” he said. Sometimes we should just walk away and let our silence speak for us.

Silence may also express something else. After my husband died one of our friends seemed to have misplaced my phone number. When I summoned courage to tell her that I wished she’d call more often she said: “Frankly I can’t deal with your pain.”

That’s really where it’s at. People fear that if your husband (sibling, child, partner) can die, so can theirs – – and it also brings up fears of their own mortality..

So what can we do to protect ourselves? For starters we can jettison any “make nice” belief and refuse to accept thoughtless remarks thrown at us. We also need to realize most people aren’t speaking from malice, but ignorance. The standard, “I’m sorry for your loss,” my sound like a cliche, but it’s sometimes the safest choice.

The brighter side of this picture is that there are some thoughtful people who understand what would genuinely help us. Even if we pride ourselves on being ”strong” and independent ,we can benefit from learning to accept offers such as “I’m going ti the store, can I pick up anything for you?” A harassed mother told me the most welcome words she’s heard were,”Would you like me to watch the kids today so you can have some time to yourself ?”

Interestingl that these two offers were expressed as questions: What would YOU like? Giving us a choice.  For whatever words come our way, what’s key are respect for our feelings – and allowing space for them.

(What has YOUR experience been? Share – and the most interesting will be posted here.)

WEBSITE: WWW: annehosansky.com
Relevant books: “WIDOW’S WALK”– available through iUniverse.com; “TURNING TOWARD TOMORROW” -xLibris.com; ”COME AND GO”– Bookbaby.com. Also available through Amazon.com.and Amazon Kindle.

A MEANINGFUL CHANGE

Dear Readers,

I’m grateful to all of you who have been responding to my blogs for ten years, and I welcome my newer readers. Your enthusiasm has meant a great deal to me.

This isn’t a preface to parting, just a change in purpose. As you know, my posts have been labelled “A Writer’s Blog ” and “Surviving Loss.” I’m now deleting the first category in the belief there’s a surfeit of advice about writing. On the other hand, I have an abundance of personal experience to offer to those coping with the inevitable losses we all face. I’ve lost my husband to cancer, my partner to Alzheimer’s, and – more recently – my sister to a variety of lung diseases. I have also written three books about caregiving and the need to make a new life afterward. So I’m well tutored in the exercise of picking up the pieces.

From now on my blogs will be designed solely to help others contending with loss. They will include candid advice from my own experience, as well as interviews with other survivors, recommendations about useful books and podcasts, medical news and whatever seems additionally useful.

However, loss is a large umbrella. It doesn’t solely pertain to death. Loss can also mean divorce, the breakup of an affair or friendship, estrangement from your child or other family member. It can also mean the loss of your job, your home, or anything else that gives you some security in this uncertain world . One reader told me she mourns the loss of youth!

The blogs will continue to be titled anne-otations.me. (I’m addicted to puns.) To continue receiving them (no fee) send your name and Email or text address to me – ahosansky@gmail.com. Let me know what you would find helpful. I promise to reply to every communication.

I look forward to hearing from you and to continuing a meaningful relationship.

Best wishes,
Anne

SALVAGING

SALVAGING

RecentlyI  flew across the country to celebrate my birthday with my children. But everything almost fell apart the first day: my grandson tested positive for Covid. Although he lives in a college dorm, not at home, my daughter-in-law had been with him the previous day and now had to quarantine as a precaution. My son said I was welcome to stay if I wanted to, but most of the events planned would have to be cancelled.

My usual reaction to a problem is to sink into a pit of depression or become hysterical. But this time something within me shifted. I said, “Let me think about this.”

I thought for maybe two minutes. Then I used a word I’d never even thought of before: “Let’s see what we can salvage.

So I stayed and what remained was surprising. Since meetings with friends were out, my son and I spent more time alone together than we had in years. We shared many things, including our mutual love of books, in a closeness not easily gained with an adult child. My daughter-in-law – who fortunately tested negative the entire week, but prudently kept masked –spent more sharing time with me than possible when she’s busy with her job. Though I was unable to see my grandson, I had the relief of knowing he was recovering.

I came home with many thoughts about the whole experience. So many times I’ve done post-mortems after dates with friends as though a disappointing evening or movie or party had been a total zero, rather than reaping any moments that had been rewarding. As a culinary example, for years whenever I’ve hosted a dinner I invariably forget to serve something, usually the salad. Then for days afterward I berate myself for my “failure” as a host, despite the compliments about the rest of the dinner.T

This all-or-nothing attitude has also been true with my writing. If one section of the novel or short story isn’t going well, my next stop is: “I can’t write.” But suppose I were to salvage (that word again ) the few pages or phrases that work well and use them in something else? Not a zero then.

The dictionary says salvage means “rescue from loss.” I think that can be extended to mean rescuing ourselves from negativity. It’s all too easy to lose faith in a better future these Pandemic days. But we can learn to see ourselves in a more hopeful way, not as helpless victims of a capricious fate, but – in Elizabeth Bennett’s brave words – capable of “adjusting our sails when the winds change.” And to believe that sometimes those winds may bring unexpected treasure.

Website: annehosansky.com
Latest book: “COME AND GO”- available through bookbaby.com

NEXT??

  As attacks go, one more stabbing would have seemed routine for America. But this one got headlines and horrified reactions across the world,  for the victim was renowned author Salman Rushdie.  The  prognosis is that he will survive, but remain severely injured.

There’s irony in the timing. For years Rushdie had lived in hiding under British  protection because of the famous execution decree (fatwa) placed on him. His book  “The Satanic Verses,” was considered blasphemous to Prophet Muhammad. But Rushdie, who moved to the United States six years ago, no longer hides. He lives openly in New York where he also teaches. His life seemed “almost normal,” he declared.

But what’s “normal” these days?  Newspapers and TV have no shortage of stories about violence.  Rushdie is one more statistic.  Of course he’s more than that. He’s a writer who insists on saying what he believes. He was  in the Chautauqua Institute that fatal night to speak on behalf of exiled writers. Today writers are shocked and grieving as it’s  one of our”family” who was brutally knifed.

The fact that the attack happened in an auditorium where an audience peacefully gathered has shaken all of us. But the setting could be – and often is – a neighborhood grocery store (Buffalo), a nightclub (Florida), a school or house of worship (too many to list).The  reality is that there’s no hiding place.

As poet George Northrup wrote, the next casualty might be  “the person sitting next to you…. the friend you waved to…even yourself.” No wonder so many of us are fearful and anxiety-ridden. President  Biden spoke of Rushdie’s “courage and resilience.”  In this perilous world, those qualities may enable  us to  do our work and continue to live as hopefully as possible. For fear could  destroy us as surely as any perpetrator.

Hosansky’s latest book is “COME ÅAND GO.”