Saturday, April 23, 2011

Home Sweet Home -- Options For Housing Alternatives

For some reason, people think that becoming a widow and moving go hand-in-hand.  I'm not quite sure why this is, but it's one of the most common questions asked of a newly widowed person.  In fact, someone once joked that maybe realtors and funeral directors network off the same list of people.

I guess the questions, "When are you moving?" or "When are you selling your house?" are asked so often because people may be nervous about what to say around you so they end up blurting out questions like these.  Or maybe the questions are asked because it's hard for them to imagine that someone would voluntarily continue to live in a place they once shared with someone who is now gone.  Either way, newly-widowed persons are usually counseled to wait at least a year before making any life changing decisions, such as housing arrangements, unless financial circumstances dictate for them to do otherwise.

Unfortunately, finances can drastically change after a death in the family.  When a spouse dies and the other person cannot afford to maintain the current housing arrangement it is a double dose of sadness.  When this happens, the person who is already in the throes of trying to deal with the emotional ups and downs of losing a loved one then gets hit again by the reality of their new financial circumstances.  They have no choice but to move from the place they know as home, the place where they lived with the deceased person and shared a life.  Talk about stressed out!

Where to re-locate and live after a spouse's death is a dicey subject because you already feel vulnerable and the future is unknown.  Choosing among the options of independent living, assisted living or continuing care communities is not simple.  If there were only a Guide Book For A Happy Life where you could look up this kind of situation and it would give you the answer.  Wouldn't that be great?

I think it comes down to you deciding to do what you think is best for you and your particular needs.  Depending on your age, whether you work or not, the ages of your children, if you have any, your hobbies and interests, you have a lot of things to think about if you are considering a move.  Other options could include an invitation from your grown children to come live with them, or a move to a senior community to socialize with your age group and take advantage of the additional health and medical resources.  Of course, if it's at all possible, aging in your current place of residence can also be a very desirable goal.

Sibley Hospital/Widowed Persons Outreach Seminar on Options for Housing Alternatives

Presenter: Deborah Rubenstein, MSW, LICSW; Ms. Rubenstein is a clinical worker, attorney and Director of Consultation, Care Management and Couseling Services at IONA Senior Services, a community organization dedicated to supporting people as they experience the challenges and opportunities of aging.  She has over 15 years of experience as a geriatric care manager and psychotherapist working with older adults and their families.

When:  Wednesday, May 18, 2011 @ 1:00 PM to 2:30 PM

Where:  IONA Senior Services, 4125 Albemarle Street, NW, Washington, DC  20016 (one block from the Tenleytown/AU Metro Stop on the Red Line; or 202-895-9448.

Fee:  No Charge

Contact:  If you are planning to attend, please contact Ken Gordon, President, Widowed Persons Outreach, by email:

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Finding Your New Voice

I'm probably one of the last people to see the Academy-award winning movie, "The King's Speech," in a movie theatre before it goes to DVD, so please bear with me while I applaud this special film and what I learned from it.

This incredible movie tells the true life story of England's King George VI and his unexpected ascension to the throne; all the while desperately working to overcome a painful stutter.  The story works on so many levels it is hard to know where to begin but I think the story itself is so human and would still be powerful even if it were about George the Common Man instead of George the King of England.  You don't have to be royalty to be abused by a nanny, have a bad relationship with your father, or be made fun of constantly by an older brother.  These are just some of the emotional issues that contributed to George's stuttering and they could happen to anyone.

What "The King's Speech" shows us is George's constant courage and the friendship that develops with his extraordinary speech therapist, Lionel Logue.  By building up George's confidence and trust, Logue guides and coaches him until George eventually becomes a more confident public speaker thus finding his voice and leading Britian through a world war.

The idea of finding your voice is what stuck with me after seeing the film.  Finding, discovering or changing your voice at any time in your life is not an easy task but especially after the loss of a loved one.  Don't let the degree of difficulty intimidate you or stop you from trying.  Just as George plugged away at overcoming his stuttering, the work of grieving also needs to be done.  Yes, it is hard and yes, it does hurt but pain is part of the healing process.

Putting it off, trying to tamp it down within yourself or ignoring the pain will only make it worse.  Acknowledge the pain or it will come back to you at some point.  You have to know that eventually you will have to deal with it and resolve it in some fashion.  Unfortunately, there are no quick fixes.

Doctors now conclude that unresolved grief can surface years later as mental health difficulties, headaches, eating disorders or drug and alcohol dependencies.

Essentially, when you become widowed, you too are trying to find a new voice for yourself.  Much of your identity and routine were intertwined with your spouse and it's very hard in the beginning to know where to start.  In my case, I didn't have the luxury of trying to figure out which way to go.  I needed to keep working and I needed to raise my son.  So that was that and those two things took up all of my energy.  Every day was a matter of putting one foot in front of the other and just doing what needed to be done.

But for other widows and widowers whose children are raised and grown, I can see how hard it would be to try and figure out your new voice.  As one newly-widowed woman said, "Even though I was doing the same things as before, such as grocery shopping, everything was different; I was now only shopping for one.  In fact, when I tried to go to the store where my husband and I shopped together, I found that it was too difficult.  I had to change to a different supermarket in order to better care for myself."

Everybody finds different sources of support and you will too.  It could be through writing a journal or writing a letter to the person you loved and just lost.  Grief support groups are another important resource and can also be helpful.  By sharing feelings with others in the group, you learn you are not alone and others are also struggling to rebuild their lives.  You may also find that being with a particular person or people is soothing and helps you feel more connected.

 You will know what works best for you and in time, just like George, will find your new voice.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Two Special People

My thoughts today are filled with two special people whom I love very much.

One of them is in the hospital and is scheduled to have a surgical procedure today.  I wish I could be with her to hold her hand, tell her how special she is and how much she means to me and so many other people.  My prayers are with her as the doctors do their work to make her healthy again.

The other person, my husband, would have turned 80 years old today.  Happy Birthday O!  I know you are  in heaven  and I hope you're having a Boodles martini up with your birthday cake...or maybe it's a plum wine shooter with a creme caramel. . .

Sunday, April 10, 2011

To Party Or Not

This year I have had two large parties at my house...and to my surprise, I have enjoyed myself.  One was for a family member who was celebrating a BIG birthday and the other was on New Year's Day for my son and my best friends.  This may not sound like a big deal -- but it is.

With the exception of family events that happened after my husband's death, I haven't been ready to celebrate anything or plan for a party that would take place just to have fun.  In order to give a party, you have to be ready to enjoy yourself and the people you are inviting to the event.  You have to care about what they are going to eat and drink, what music you are going to play and what you're going to wear.  You have to be engaged in life; ready to do the emotional work of moving forward and doing something different by yourself. 

It can be scary but I am finding that it's worth it.

For the past few years, I have been using all of my energy to put one foot in front of the other and deal with the nuts and bolts of life: solving problems, carpooling, paying bills, going to work.  You have a different perspective on things after you have lost a loved one.  Things that you might have thought were the end of the world aren't anymore because you know what the end of the world feels like.  At the same time, things that you previously might have thought were wonderful really aren't that great because you are reminded that your loved one isn't there to share it with you.  So you sortof stay in neutral to protect yourself and just deal with life as it comes at you.

People would visit us and my son's friends would hangout but I didn't really look at what the the house looked like. I wanted it to look just like it did when my husband lived there.  I kept it clean and made sure that everything was pretty much in the same place.  I had no inclination to paint, move anything around or replace anything.  It was just there.

I can't tell you how long this went on but one day I just walked into the house and I knew it was time to change things around.  Not in a drastic way, as in a renovation, but more in the subtle way of knowing that it's okay to paint a room or change a picture or move the furniture.  The feeling was similiar to when we first bought our house and I remember how worthwhile it felt that with each room we cleaned and changed it became more our house and less the previous owners. 

Almost in the same way, I felt that everytime I changed the house from the way that it was when my husband was alive was a change that in some way minimized the memory of him and I didn't want to do that.  It took me awhile to understand that it's okay to make changes to the house.  I slowly came to the realization that I wouldn't have kept it looking the same if he were alive, so I shouldn't feel bad about changing it now that he is no longer living here.

My husband and I used to have a lot of parties when he was alive and I miss that very much.  But I can't go backwards so I choose to embrace the blessings I now have in my life.  It feels good to once again open up the house and welcome family and friends.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Look To This Day



Look To this Day

 Look to this day:

For it is life, the very life of life.

In its brief course

Lie all the verities and realities of your existence.

The bliss of growth,

The glory of action,

The splendour of achievement

Are but experiences of time.

For yesterday is but a dream

And tomorrow is only a vision;

And today well-lived, makes

Yesterday a dream of happiness

And every tomorrow a vision of hope.

Look well therefore to this day;

Such is the salutation to the ever-new dawn!