Tuesday, July 31, 2012

The Widow's Book Corner - What Remains

As promised, I will start reviewing books that I have read recently. Mostly of them will be about grief but I am sure some yoga books will show up from time to time. And, if I find a fiction book that I like, I won't keep that to myself and will pass it along ;) I can promise no talk of the Fifty Shades of Gray. Yes I did read it but that's about all that needs to be said.

After Matt's death, I quickly went out searching for grief books, in particular books focused on younger widows. There aren't that many out there but  amongst the few, there are some excellent reads. I have always been a person that fell back on books and used them to prepare myself for any of life's situations. I also love to read fiction books, I read a lot in the past year just to take me away from it all. I pretty much enjoy all books. I usually have one fiction and one self-help/informational book going at any given time. And my recent Kindle purchase has only added fuel to the fire. Before Matt and I bought a house I got a book to prepare myself called Buying a House  and before we adopted Lila, I picked up a copy of The Only Dog Training Book You'll Ever Need. Matt would always laugh at my "preparation" books but was happy when I came to our closing ready to have an informed conversation and won Lila from two other adoption applicants after I told the Adoption Director about my positive training techniques. I always turn to books and this period of my life has been no different. There are a lot of grief books to sort through out there so hopefully this provides a quick reference for anyone looking for a book in their time of need.

What Remains: A Memoir of Fate, Friendship and Love  by CaroleRadziwill

I LOVE the Real Housewives TV series on Bravo. I started with the original cast of Orange County and have followed them all since. It's my guilty pleasure and typically what I relax to in the evenings with a glass of wine. Matt couldn't stand the show and would leave the room entirely and just didn't understand how a bunch of woman bickering was enjoyable. But whatever, it is my football. Me and my girlfriends have spent many of hours having a laugh over this crazy cast of characters too. It's just plain old fashioned fun.  

I was looking forward to a new season of the Real Housewives of New York City a couple of months ago. Bravo had rehauled the cast year for some new spice with three new housewives. Much to my surprise, there is now widow on the cast, Carole Radziwill. I thought she was a  great addition; an easy going down to earth gal and couldn't wait to see how her character unfolded.  And how wonderful to see that a young beautiful widow went on to live her life and enjoy it! During her intro, I learned that Carol wrote a book, I couldn't want to pick up a copy.

To give you a quick synopis; Carole was married to Anthony Radziwill in August 1994 after meeting him on the set of ABC where they both focused on news documentaries. Anothony was the nephew of Jackie O'Nasis Kennedy and cousin of John Kennedy Jr. He was also a Polish prince making Carole a princess. Carole was also best friends with Carolyn Bessette. She was caring for Anthony who was near the end of his long battle with cancer in Martha's Vineyard, waiting for John and Carolyn to arrive when their plane fell into the Atlantic Ocean. Anthony passed away about 3 weeks later in August 1999 at the age of 40.

I eagerly delved into her book and it didn't let me down. The most relateble piece of the book was Carol's care giving role in her husband's life. Most of the blogs/books of young widows that I find, the husband's death was typically a sudden event. There are a lot of the same issues but it can be very different at the same time. I related to Carol and sometimes had to stop reading the book just to take it all in. To realize that I am not a total nut job and someone else had the same exact feelings! Or to stop the tears from rolling down my cheek on the El as I relived some of these feelings.

One of the other similarities that I associated with, was that Carol's husband was diagnosed with cancer prior to their engagement which was the case with Matt and myself. Carol shares of her relationship, "But cancer showed up like an unplanned pregnancy and completely defined who we were together." 

How correct Carole is. Matt was diagnosed with brain cancer about 9 months after we started dating when I woke up in the middle of the night to him having a seizure. We went on to be together for 75 more months of living with this beast. Now I can see it ruled our lives, even if we wouldn't admit it. I am so angry about that, it's simply not fair. We didn't have the time we deserved to be young, carefree, and in love. I also look at those 9 months and think, damn those were good. Those 9 months, 270 days of carefree living were amazing, they carried us through.

A friend once asked me, didn't you consider what the impact was of marrying a man with cancer? Nope, never even crossed my mind. I loved Matt and wanted to marry him. Nothing was holding me back.

Another thing I identified with Carole was not realizing it was the end until it really really was. I mean I knew it but then you can't really ever know it or prepare yourself. Then it just sneaks up on you, your life is completely unrecognizable and you don't have the chance to brace yourself for what is about to happen. I am sure some looked at me and thought, how could you not know? My answer, you simply can't live there. Especially when you are 29 years old. You can't fathom it. You can't know it until it's there and you always have to hold onto the hope.  

I really enjoyed reading this book despite reliving some very intense moments of the past year. It was nice to relate to someone who was a caregiver at such a young age. The one thing I would have wished to hear about... Carole's journey afterwards. How she healed and recovered from it. She shares some bits and pieces  on the show but I would like to know more, how she lived through to come out to the other side and be happy. She also mentions her husband frequently on the show, which is even more promising, going on to be happy and still hold the love and memory in your heart. During the show, Carole shares she working on another book, this time a fiction novel called The Widow's Guide to Sex and Dating. She is also in talks to make this show a sitcom with the director/producer of Sex in the City. Looking forward to reading/watching more from Carolre.

I emailed Carole a couple of weeks ago. I haven't heard back, don't really sit around wondering if I will. I just had to let her know what her being on the show has meant to me. And of course to offer to star in the sitcom or at least provide some stories of my journey. And to yell at her for stealing my Real Housesives of Chicago widow angle.

Overall Recommendation: I would recommend this book to anyone  especially those who have been a caregiver to a spouse. Or to those that are a friend to someone who has had to care for their spouse with a terminal illness. 
Happy Reading,


Wednesday, July 25, 2012

These are a few of my favorite things...

I have to admit, I haven't been into my normal yoga routine lately...pretty much since I posted about just listening to your body well now it's time to stop going with the flow and figuring out what the problem is. And I am still have not started to feel better since our wedding anniversary. After talking to my support group last night, that's normal. The support group moderator also shared that even though it feels like I was pushed back to early in my grief journey, I am still moving forward. That feeling down is part of it all and helps you in the end. I believe this but it doesn't make it any easier to be stuck in the rut of blah.

I have been craving a pure happy moment, a let yourself go, smile so hard it hurts, laugh out loud moment . It just seems there haven't been any in awhile and these moments aren't exactly easy to manufacture right now. There have certainly been some moments of contentment but I just can't seem to pass over that hump into light and happiness.

I was thinking about my yoga practice late last week and I realized I hadn't been going to my normal classes with the intensity that I usually do. I had gone to some other amazing events like Yoga in Millennium Park but not my usual vinyasa flowin sweat sessions. So I went back to my normal class at CorePower, C2, on Monday.

I had planned to go to a later class that evening but a condo meeting came up so I went earlier. i wasn't pleased that my plans for the night had been changed but I went with the change and thankfully one of my fav teachers led the class. She talked about some things going on her life at the beginning of class and invited the class to share in her intention which was, spend time on those things that make you happy, let go of that which doesn't. Sometimes it mystifies me how a teachers suggested he intention of a class can totally fit my day or situation and I was definitely mystified on Monday. This is exactly what I need to focus on. I embraced the intention and focused on having fun and being happy during class. We played quite a bit and I had a blast getting into crow and headstand (against the mirror but I will have it by the end of the year!).

So I started thinking about what else makes me happy. Going through grief, you need to know what has the best chance of bringing you a moment of happiness. So I am putting together a list of my favorite things. Those things and activities that can usually allow me to live in the moment and share a smile.  In support group, we agree to never tell another widow you should do this or should do that but hopefully someone reads this, tries something new, and lets go for a moment. And, it goes without saying Yoga is numero uno on this list clearly since I dedicated a blog to it! Here goes (in no particular order with more posts to come)...

1. Farmer's Markets

Living in Chicago, you might not associate city living with fresh markets and farms but there is a farmer's market every day in here. I can walk to two from my office and usually go to at least one to pick up some fresh items for the week, planning to go tomorrow. There is a larger market every Saturday, Green City Market, which my Mom and I biked to after yoga this past weekend. We had so much fun getting something to eat after yoga and a bike ride, listening to some drum beats while kids danced, and picking out some cheeses, fruits, and veggies to enjoy.

Matt and I had biked down to this market a couple of times together so it also brought back good memories. When I would go to a market during the week, I would give him a call to ask what he wanted for dinner. He loved when I brought home a loaf of fresh bread. Typically he would be slightly annoyed with the amounts of stuff that I brought home knowing there was no way I could eat everything I bought before going bad. I miss cooking dinner with him so much. Of course we visited the Madison farmer's market by the Capital Building to enjoy plenty of Wisconsin goods and cheesy bread.

What do I typically buy there? Anything that strikes my fancy... my latest obsession? Peaches, grumpy goat cheese, and flowers. I always have fresh flowers at my house so those are a frequent purchase.

Check out pictures from the Farmer's Market I went to with my Mom this weekend below. I also got a new camera so it was fun to experiment while walking around. Hopefully you can check out a market around you before the summer is over!

Om Shanti,


Sunday, July 22, 2012

Being a cry baby is cool!

So I had some other ideas for my next post but then I came across this article today and had to comment on it...

Why Crying is a Good Thing

Basically the article discusses how crying is cathartic, natural, allows us to connect to our emotions on a deeper level, and is a physical manifestation of our feelings.

Or said another way, crying is a normal, human reaction. I am cool with that. As a widow, I actually try to cry once a day, allow myself a block of time each day to cry and be sad. It helps me. I cried today hanging out around the Half Marathon, no real reason but just got all teary eyed.

But when with someone else, crying makes the other person upset. Then the cryer becomes more concerned with the other person's reaction to the crying, not wanting to make them upset And then the crying and the emotions become about something completely different.

From today's meditative reading in Healing after loss a story is told of a little girl who got home from visiting her friend later than her mother had expected. When her mother asked the reason for the delay, the child said, "I was helping Jane. Her doll broke."

The mother asked, "Did you help her fix it?"

The child said, "No, I helped her cry."

So I am putting it out there... widows cry and they cry a lot. Don't be alarmed if one spontaneously combusts into tears. No need to ask why, its pretty self-explanatory, just give us a hug, tell us you love us, or simply be with us.

Friday, July 20, 2012

This just sucks

Well, I have been trying to think of some quirky yoga comparison to what I have been feeling the past week and don't think there really is one. I haven't felt that great since my anniversary last week. I feel like I have been dropped kicked back in the grief timeline. Just when you thought you were feeling better...

But every book I have read, says that these up and downs are normal. The grief journey has been compared to a spiral staircase and for me, that's what I identify with the most. When people ask me how I am doing my general response is, "I am taking moment by moment." Typically you hear this phrase by daily increments but when you are grieving, a day is simply too long of a time frame to comprehend.

I am in a support group for widows/widowers and in the last session, the moderator asked us, "have you had any good days?" Most everyone stared into space at this question  trying to search for something to say. When the moderator looked at me, I shared that I have had some not so terrible days. It feels like the last 4 months are a blob of days. All the same, marching along, not a lot of differentiating factors. There are some bright days among those; laying in my beach hut at the ashram, days in Hawaii, celebrating a friend's Bday enjoying the sunset on Lake Michigan, and my Bday with a yoga class full of friends. But even these days were filled with their sad moments. This is what needs to be accepted, there will be sad moments so just feel those and there will be happy moments so just enjoy those.

I recently read a blog by a woman who had lost her Mother at a young age. Chelsea Roff states, "Sometimes, I think, suffering is just that: suffering. Sometimes, there's no pretty bow to tie around a tragedy, nothing beautiful or glorious about the grotesque.” She goes on to share that she doesn't look at God as a Puppeteer, making our loved ones ill with cancer only to teach us a lesson. Why would God do that? I remember as a kid thinking of God sitting on a cloud with a giant remote control, pushing a button to make things happen in our life. But now I know that's not true. I know that I will move on to meaningful positive outcomes from this experience but right now it sucks. Right now quite frankly thinking of any of the positive outcomes of it make me think, really? How could anything good from Matt suffering and not being here with me?

It just sucks. I am enduring the sadness hoping for some happier moments. That's all there is to it for now. No yoga strap to tie around it all.


Friday, July 13, 2012

Still on the same theme...listening to my body and some Restorative Yoga!

As I predicted, it was a tough week with lots of tears and lots of needing just to be and not powering through. It's this weird balance that us widows need to find... somewhere between; grieving, moving on, and not wallowing in self pity. Joan Didion in The Year of Magial Thinking  shares of her journey, "We understand the aversion most of us have to dwelling on it. Visible mourning reminds us of death, which is construed as unnatural, a failure to manage the situation." How does one balance it all and still come out looking like a sane person?

The Counselor that I go to continually asks me, are there any days you find yourself not getting out of bed to go to work or crying all day? So I think on Wednesday, my anniversary, I was scared to do all these things but it was the right thing to do. I simply couldn't face the world that day and luckily I was in a position to indulge myself.

As I shared in my last post, I had missed yoga both Monday and Tuesday and had done nothing in it's place. Missing one day of exercise is normal, I usually only work out 5-6 days a week, but two in a row is not and I started to feel all weird and off balance. Also, I think laying around all day perpetuates restless sleep. You lay around all day so by night you aren't tired from doing nothing all day so then you don't sleep well. The next day you laze around to make up for the sleep you lost and it all just repeats itself. So by Wednesday I was in need of some physical exertion but I wasn't sure if I could face a whole power yoga class at the gym. All the faces, all the hellos, all the everything. So I began desperately searching for a Restorative Yoga class that evening.

Corepower, the studio that I practice at, does have a restorative class, Core Restore, but only a couple of times a week. There were none available that night at Corepower and I didn't have the energy to find my way to another studio so I practiced at home.

I have been to several restorative classes at this point and if you have been before, you know there isn't a lot to it. For those of you that haven't, in this class, you hold each pose for about 5 minutes. You also use props such as blocks, bolsters, towels, blankets, and my personal fav eye pillows. You let your body relax into the pose and it's amazing. You probably only do 10 poses throughout the class. It is clearly slow placed and while it is phsyically challenging to relax into the poses, the real challenge is keeping your mind quiet.

I first tried restorative when I was at the Sivinanda Yoga Ashram in the Bahamas. There was a workshop midday and I tried it out with some friends I had made at the ashram. I instantly feel in love and have been trying to go at least once a week since. This class was in a shelter in the middle of the trees and I still have a mind photo of the background as I laid in legs up the wall pose feeling the Bahamian breeze in my hair...ahhhh....I am drifting back here if you can't tell! (See picture below) It was peaceful and relaxing but also very emotional. I cried quietly in a few of the poses. I spoke to my friend afterwards and she also shared that she had cried. It's a pretty typical reacation to this type of class.

Restorative yoga not only opens up your muscles and joints but opens up your heart and forces you to face your emotions. The pose that really does it for me is pigeon pose, one of my fav poses at the end of class too. This is a hip opener and the hips are where we store a lot or our emotions so this once can be very emotionally intense.

I personally don't know how all this physically works but it does! Why else would I be crying during these classes somehow getting deeper in there... deeper into my muscles and my emotions. I read a couple of articles in preparation to writing this post but couldn't find any scientific answers as to why. Maybe there aren't any but I am going to do some further research into this this and report back.

In the meantime, I recommend trying a restorative class especially if you are in the middle of grieving and don't have a lot of energy. Restorative can be just right for this, something to give you physical exertion while opening your heart to your emotions, and tiring you out for a good night's rest. I included some links to articles that I used to put together a class at home. I hope you try this soon and find it as rewarding as I do.



Om shanti,


Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Just listen toyour body (Lesson #1 From the Yoga Mat to the the Real World)

Consistently throughout a yoga class and hopefully in the introduction you will hear from the Instructor to "Listen to your body". If a pose hurts, don't do it. If a pose is too much for you today, don't do it. If you are on your mooncycle, don't do a headstand! Basically, if you aren't feeling it, don't push yourself into a pose, you will only end up hurting yourself.

This is a very hard lesson to learn especially in today's culture. Even in all my yogi glory, I find myself looking at my neighbor thinking, "She got into birds of paradise, so can I!".  But this isn't the yogi way and you can really twist your body into knots pushing yourself too hard.

In yoga, we learn to listen to our bodies and understand which poses our body can handle and which it can't. Some of us simply have to work harder at balance poses or just don't have the arm strength for crow pose.

At the beginning of my grief journey and especially when I was going back to work, I challenged myself to listen to my body. I have a very go go go personality and don't feel satisfied unless I check off enough tasks off my checklist evertday. Well, grief is a job in and of itself. It's taxing and takes a toll on your body and life without you even realizing it. Why? Well here are my thoughts... about a thousand times I day, I am seeing a memory, being sad, and then telling myself that I need to move on.

For example... see a corner of the street... Matt and I met here once to go to sushi at our favorite place... we went to sushi on our first date when I didn't even like sushi!... I would do anything to have sushi with him again... wait you can't... OMG Matt isn't here anymore (feeling of being punched in the stomach)... OMG, I can never have sushi with Matt again!

Another example... oh my gosh the tree fell down at the dog park... I can't wait to tell Matt he is going to be so surprised... I can't tell him... OMG Matt isn't here to tell anything anymore... OMG I can't go to the dog park with him again... OMG I have to move on without him... I don't want to be at the dog park without him!

And so on and so forth about a thousand times a day so as you can imagine this is tiring. I recognized that grief was tiring during my 3 month leave from work, I was tired from simpy waking up and taking care of a few errands and still needed to rest midday. So logically when I went back to work, I knew this would be a challenge especially for me since I fill my day so full. So I told myself, it's okay if I don't exercise everyday or just lay on the couch for a night, don't make plans with friends,  or don't complete another form. The world won't come to end!

I am proud to say I listened to my body the past few days. It's a hard week for me. Yesterday was 4 months since Matt's death and tomorrow is what should have been our 3 year wedding anniversary. I knew it was going to be a rough one. So yesterday, after work I felt I truly didn't feel like going to yoga (gasp) so I didn't. I got a pedicure instead and watched TV. I said I will get up early and go to yoga! But I was tired and didn't and good thing it was a long day including numerous meltdowns, I needed all the energy I could get!

So I listened to my body and it was right! Now I don't condone listening to your body everyday on skipping workouts but this time it was right. And listening to your body is definitely a lesson to take from your mat to the real world during times of grief.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Starting the journey...

Well...here goes. I am starting a blog. I can't believe I am doing this myself as I have made fun of bloggers in the past but the past few months, some blogs that I have read have been some real life savers. And I guess I feel like I have got something to share and if it helps just one person through this awful time then I am happy to help!

I started reading blogs the past few months of other widows. I found myself rigorously searching for the Internet to find someone with the same story, the same emotions, the same sadness. For those of you that are just meeting me, my husband, Matt, passed away, four months ago today, from brain cancer. I am sure from that sole statement alone, you know there is a ton of sadness, grief, stress, anxiety, loneliness, etc, etc. I will get into our story at another time. For now I would just like to share the purpose of this blog.

Back to all those crazy feelings (the sadness, grief, stress, etc., etc.), somehow I made it through all of these intense situations and feelings still being able to smile each day. True there have been some really sad moments and there still are everyday but in general I have been able to move through all this relatively calm and still able to tell a funny joke. My counselor, whose jaw pretty much dropped when I told her the story of my life, told me in these exact words, "It's amazing you haven't lost it and had a complete meltdown." It got me thinking... how haven't I? I mean really?

So I then started thinking about my yoga practice. I have been doing yoga for about the past eight years. In March 2010, I attended my first hot yoga class with my aunt at a studio down the street and then it became a daily practice. Yoga is supposed to not only be a physical activity but help you to get through the tough times and maintain tranquility. In the West, we are more familiar with the asanas (postures) but this is only one limb or part of the practice. When you go to a class the Instructor will tell you that this pose or that pose is supposed to help with physical ailments or supposed to open your heart. In those moments, I have asked myself, does it really, how???

So with this blog, I am going to explore how yoga has helped me on this journey. How it helps me to redefine my life as I enter my 30's. This will also allow me to get deeper into my yoga practice by looking into the yogic philosophy. And of course, hopefully this helps me with my grief journey. I have a lot of ideas for this blog including book reviews on the Grief/Widow books that I have read. I typically don't like to express all my feelings publicly about losing Matt, so we will see how personal I get with all that (I have a personal journal for that of course!) but only time will tell.

So here goes. I am really looking forward to this! For now, I need to figure out how to make this blog look cute before I make it public!