The first time I went into public by myself after the death of my husband was to run a few errands.  I went to a shopping center to pick up a few things.

I don’t know why I noticed people more than usual.  Maybe it was because I was just more sensitive than before.  Maybe my perception of life had changed.

That day, I saw some very stressed, unhappy and harried folks.  It was still early in the day when you would think life would be easy going. This was after coffee, the kids are in school and you can get on to your time of day.

I saw people standing in the line to get checked out of the stores that were impatient. Looking at their watches.  Not impatient with the check out person, just worried about time and pressures of their “to do lists”.  I saw toddlers being dragged around stores that were certainly not happy about their situations.

Store after store, I observed these unhappy people.  Seemingly upset over mundane lists and life-centered problems.  They seemed to be preoccupied with daily errands and were stressed about chores so early in the morning.

I finally could take it no more.  In between stops, I parked and had a good cry. I wanted to turn to these people and shout, “STOP, PAY ATTENTION TO WHAT IS IMPORTANT!”  Did they realize that those lists and those errands would be of no importance in a blink of an eye if they lost a loved one?

I wanted to shake them and say, “GO HOME AND HUG YOUR HUSBAND.  CARESS THAT TIRED TODDLER.  LISTEN TO THE TALES OF YOUR SIX YEAR OLD”.  We take for granted that they will be there tomorrow and we will have more time.

In reality, we all get caught up in the necessities of living.  We all have obligations to fulfill.  Some we care about and some we do not.  But there has to be a balance.

You have to put the love of God, the love of your special partner and the love of family at the top of the list.  All of the rest is filler.  Also, it cannot take more of the time and energy than you are willing to give.


Knowing how to balance so that we aren’t stressed and that we can face each day relaxed and at peace.  I will guarantee that a morning prayer asking God to give us the grace to live an unstressed day and a day that focuses on the right things will be the answer.

Start by thanking Him that you have awakened to see another sunrise and that you will welcome Him by your side in all of your chores.  Ask Him to guide you in a balanced, loving day.

You will be amazed at how life takes on a different meaning.


Busy, busy, busy.

That is my new motto.
Stay busy.
Keep moving.
Keep doing.

Wake up with a things to do list and don’t stop until it is finished.  There is lots to do and I need to get it all done.

I believe that distractions are the key to keeping sadness at bay.  If you don’t have time to think about the loss in your life you will not have time to focus on the sadness.

My children have been great to help me with this plan. In less than four months, I have traveled to Boston for a week, Seattle for a week, Phoenix for a week, the beach three times, the mountains one time, Ohio one time and (at the time of writing this) am in Healy, Alaska.  I have cleaned, organized, learned new things, visited the sick, written lots of letters, worked puzzles, painted walls and generally stayed busy.

I have found that when my “things to do list” gets done too fast, I have time to think. Having time to think is my enemy.  When I am not busy I begin to travel back in time and remember when my husband was alive and when we were having fun and doing things together.  I miss him greatly and that leads me directly into sadness.

They say that time is on your side.  As time goes forward you will heal.  You need time to move so you are further from the loss.  I am not sure what the words “closure” and “healing” really mean.  But when I am not busy, time stands still.  When I am not busy, time drags and the days are long.

I believe that your mind controls your thoughts and your thoughts control your moods and your emotions.  So if your mind is focused on your “things to do list”, you do not have time to let your thoughts go to the things that will make your mood get sullen and your emotions become sad.

Others say that you need to process for “closure” and “healing” to take place.  But when I think about processing it takes me back to thinking about my loss and thinking about my loss takes me into sadness.

Maybe I am all wrong.  Maybe someday I will wake up and find that I have just put it all off.  I may see that I have locked everything away in a trunk for another day. I may find that I totally fall apart.  Maybe I will someday become a basket case.

But I don’t think so.  I have made my peace with God.  I have processed the death.  I have reviewed my personal thinking about life and death.  I have come to terms with my new life.  I can talk about my sweet husband without being sad.  I can remember our fun life and reflect on the past sometimes without being emotional.

I really believe I am doing OK.  But I know that I am better on the days that I am busy, busy, busy.  When I was doing grief seminars (yeah, imagine that) I taught all the theoretical concepts of the grieving process.  I studied the experts and I, as Dr. Priestino, presented the information as if it were the tried and true.

But if I were to do that today, after I have lived the experience, I would have a different story to tell.  I believe you need to process, think, review and then stay very busy to get through it.  Yes there is shock, denial, etc. but essentially it is acceptance and stay busy, busy, busy.  Thank you God for giving me caring children and good friends that will keep me distracted.



Happy Birthday, Ray

My dear sweet husband was a New Year’s Baby.  I have a small ceramic shoe that he was given when he was the first child born in 1941 in Santa Monica, California.

On New Year’s eve each year, the family would watch the ball drop in Times Square, toast with champagne or similar liquid, sign Auld Lang Syne, kiss each other and then turn to Ray and sing Happy Birthday.

Many weeks ago we began to get concerned about how to celebrate New Years without “Poppy”.  I knew it was going to be tough getting through the holidays.  But we felt like New Year’s would be even harder than Christmas.

As a family, we committed to keep things positive.  We would talk about Poppy,  but we were not going to let it get to us.  We would think of something funny and bring the conversations to a upbeat level.  But what to do with his birthday?

The following was our plan and it worked well.  At 10 minutes after midnight, when we had watched the ball drop and we had hugged and toasted the new year, we had a birthday party.  We sang “Happy Birthday” to Poppy.  We had ice cream and cake.  Then we had a birthday gift exchange.

Instead of re-gifting or using a “white elephant gift” we each brought a gift that “Poppy” would have enjoyed.  Whenever Ray received a gift, he always said, “Oh, this is just what I always wanted”.  So saying that when we received a gift was a funny and respectful way to remember him.

When we sat down to have the gift exchange, we drew numbers and Cheri, the daughter in charge would call out a number and we would either choose a gift from the stack or “steal” one from another person.  We were all amazed at how clever people were in their gifts.

It seems that each year, “Poppy” got socks or underwear for his birthday and this was no exception.  Athletic socks were there as a gift.  He loved, loved, loved to play cards and so it was no surprise that two gifts included playing cards.

Although he became a teetotaler and hadn’t had a drink since the 90s, the kids remember how he loved his bourbon and coke.  So there was a salute to his drinking days in two of the gifts.  Because we traveled so much and had long, long drives, Ray would mix cans of trail mix to nibble on as he drove.  So, of course, trail mix was one of the gifts.  There was an Ocean Isle Beach hat, which is the island he loved so much.  There was even a fidget spinner.

The gift that brought us the most joy was a hammer.  Engraved in the side of the hammer was the statement, “I love building memories with you”.  We all knew Poppy well.

We have decided that this is a fun way to respectfully remember Ray on his birthday.  We look forward to continuing this tradition.

My hat is off to all of my children for helping us keep the spirits high and remember Ray.  It was good memories.  Happy Birthday, Ray.

Gonna Miss You

On the Wednesday morning after my husband had died on Saturday, I woke up at 6 am. It was a very quiet morning and the lake was as smooth as glass.  For a skiing family, this is a call to get out on the lake.  I looked at the dock and as I expected the ski boat was gone.  They were out there taking advantage of the beautiful day.

So I went downstairs, brewed a cup of coffee and stepped out on the porch.  In three steps I realized that something was wrong.  It was deathly quiet.  The usual sound of this porch is a constant chatter of song birds, the whirling of the humming birds up to the feeders as they fight each other for territory and the movement and chirps of the squirrels as they play tag with each other in the trees as children would on a playground. On this morning, none of these sounds were there.

It is always a symphony of blended voices of nature, harmonizing and producing a cacophony of interesting music. They chirp and call out and respond in the many pitches of the loud, soft, high and low sounds of the natural beings in the yard.  This day, none of them were singing.  None of them were playing.  None of them were scurrying or flying or fussing or discussing as they usually do.  It was quiet.

Suddenly, I heard a single loud mouth bird.  It was so loud and clear.  It was right there in the tree in front of me.  It said, “I’m gonna miss you, gonna miss you, I’m gonna miss you, gonna miss you.”  I was astounded.  What did the bird say?  It flew from one tree to another, closer to me as I walked to the railing of the porch.

Once again it said, “I’m gonna miss you, gonna miss you, I’m gonna miss you, gonna miss you”.  I looked up to see where it was coming from.  I could not see the bird.  I looked up again and I said, “I’m gonna miss you too.”  I knew without a doubt that God had set this scene up for me.  The sounds of nature had all been silenced so there was no chance that I would miss the message.  The chosen bird had a very loud mouth and I don’t know what it was but the rhythm and the volume has made me decide it was a cardinal.  It was the exact message that I needed to hear.  My husband was well, happy, content and letting me know that he would miss me.

A good friend gave me the book, Gift of the Red Bird by Paula D’Arcy sometime after this experience.  In essence it tells of a divine encounter while she is on a quest to find peace. I enjoyed the book but I already had my divine encounter. I knew that God was letting me know that He had messages for me as I grew closer to Him through this tragic part of my life.

I think that it takes a life stopping event to halt us long enough to see the absolute blending of the physical and spiritual world. It is amazing how God has woven all of it together to let us feel and know His presence, His power and His love.  Although I grieve the loss of my greatest love, I thank God for the ability to draw closer to Him and experience the many encounters of his winks.

Memorial Service

When a person you love transitions from this world to the next, you need to provide an opportunity to respectfully remember them.  This can be a funeral or a memorial service.  Now I think of a funeral as a respectful remembrance ceremony where there is the final remains of the transitioned person.  I think of a memorial service as a respectful remembrance ceremony without the remains.  Just giving you my definition.  Don’t know if there is really a difference.

But it is the duty or chore or job of the family to put this ceremony together.  Not an easy thing to pull off.  You want to honor your loved one but you don’t want people to feel uncomfortable or create a sea of depression.

And some people attend a memorial service out of feelings of obligation.  Others have no choice because of the relationship such as being a member of the family or a co-worker or a person’s boss.  Essentially it is not at the top of a person’s “I want to” list.  So when you are planning the service, you want people to breathe a sigh of relief when it is a pleasant experience and not a downer.

There are many choices needing to be made.  Who will preside?  What special words do you want spoken?  What type of music and what specific songs should be included?  What should the program look like?

The first decision is to find a funeral home to help you.  This is hard.  You want someone that you trust.  You want someone that will listen and guide you instead of selling you the biggest funeral that they have.  Oh, yes.  It is a product that you are buying, and you are vulnerable so sometimes you spend more money with the encourgagement of the funeral director.  You need a person with reason to help you.

We were very lucky.  My husband and I had talked about dying many times.  We both looked around and realized that this was a natural thing that happened to all people.  So it was smart to think about it and be prepared.  So I knew exactly what he wanted and what I should do.  I knew the funeral home he trusted and I also knew that I could be careful in what I spent.

The program became a group project for the family.  A little bit of serious, a little bit of funny and a comfortable amount of talking about my husband.  Remembering the agenda kept us on target.  We were not preaching to the lost, we were honoring my husband and remembering the good times in his life.

Since we have a large family we got the children involved in drawing pictures and displaying lots of photos of the fun times we had with Poppy.  We quoted Dr. Suess as well as C.S. Lewis and the Bible.  We had modern songs and old favorites.  And we had a flag ceremony to remember his time serving in the Air Force.

I enjoyed the memorial service.  It was a great mixture of his life.  It was not sad.  There were serious parts and there was laughter.  I felt him there and he was enjoying it with us.  My husband was a very loved man and his service reflected his valued life and all that he gave to us.  It was our time to say,” We love you, we honor and respect you and we will always remember you”. He left a legacy and I feel we honored his legacy through his service.

Life Goes On

I wrestled with God all night long after my husband died.  I agonized.  I questioned.  I argued.  I disagreed.  I expressed anger.  I visualized over and over and over the event that led to my husband’s death.  I never slept.  By morning, I was exhausted.

But I had made peace with God’s decision.  I was not happy nor was I still angry.  I understood that God had made the decision.  It was no human error not lack of attention to my husband’s well being.  It was simply that God wanted him back in heaven and he had the power to make His will happen.

So I got out of bed and went downstairs for coffee.  I brewed my cup and walked out on the porch.  As soon as I stepped on the porch, I stopped.  It was a typical summer Carolina morning.  The birds were singing a loud chorus of beautiful songs.  So many pitches, so many differences in calls and volumes.  It sounded tropical.  The sky was the gorgeous bright Carolina Blue.  So vivid it looked like a color off of the artists’ pallet.  The greens of the trees were neon with the different hues of summer growth.  The multitude of squirrels were chasing each other and playing tag.

It was everything that you could hope for on a gorgeous summer morning in South Carolina.  But it was all wrong.  It was suppose to be dark.  It was suppose to be gloomy.  It was suppose to be depressing.  It was suppose to reflect my world as it now exists.  This was terribly wrong.

Life was not happy and vibrant.  Life could not be busy and interesting.  Didn’t the squirrels know that my husband had died?  Didn’t they know my world had fallen apart.  How dare they run and play and look happy.  Didn’t the birds know that they should be silent in respect for the great tragedy that had happen in my life.  What was wrong with them singing out loud with their usual choral symphony.

Where were the clouds and the rain and the ugly part of the world.  How dare the sun to shine and offer beauty to the sky.  How dare the lake to be smooth and calm and blue and inviting.  Did it not realize that just yesterday it had been a party to destroying my life?

I sat down and took a few breaths.  I was ready to yell at God again for throwing such a sight in my face.  After all He had caused it all.  At least He could make nature reflect the hurt in my heart.  It was as if my loss was insignificant and not worthy of reflection in the natural part of the world.

Then God gently said to me.  I know you hurt.  I know you are sad.  I know your world will never be the same.  But I promise to take care of you.  I will never leave you and I will never give you more than you can handle.  You can do this. You can be strong.  Your husband is with me and we both expect you to carry on.

So embrace the beauty of the world.  Love it.  See Me in it.  Because life goes on.

Processing with God

There was not to be any sleep the night of my husband’s death.  Oh, I went to bed.  I did everything I usually do before bed.  I prepared to sleep but sleep never was to be a part of my night.  I had to make my peace with life and death.  I had to process with God.

And process I did.  I thought about the last few minutes before my husband left to walk down to the lake.  Was he in a good mood?  Did he seem sick?  Did he seem confused?  Were there symptoms of illness that I did not pick up on?  Was I in tune with his moods, his needs, his physical and emotional facets?

Yes, he was in a great mood.  We had laughed and joked and our relationship was in a good place.  No, he did not seem to be sick.  There were no symptoms that I could have noticed.  He had been weed eating which he loved to do.  He was going to play in the lake with children and grandchildren which he dearly loved.  Life was good.

So what went wrong?  If he was not sick and not depressed, what went wrong?  He was a good swimmer.  He was in eight feet of water.  What went wrong?

I tried to walk through the scenario all night.  I visually put myself there at the scene.  I, in my mind, was playing with them in the water.  We were splashing and laughing and making a train with rafts and noodles.  We were teasing and joking and having fun, as only family can do.  We were being responsible and caring, but relaxing and staying cool in the heat.  We were enjoying the lake that we love so much.

Then I visualized the final moments before he drown.  I lay on the raft with him.  I watched as he watched the kids and looked at them at play.  How he saw with pride each of them.  How precious they are and how much he loved them.

And then he rolled over and left this physical world.  There was no pain.  There was no discomfort.  There was no panic.  It was a simple movement from this world to the next.  God reached down and quietly lifted him out of his body and took him to the next world.  It was easy, and smooth and a comfortable transition.

Non-believers will say that during the night I justified his death in my own mind.  And non-believers will find their own explanations in all things.  But I know what happened during the night.  I was there.  I had the presence of God with me.  I talked to God as if he were sitting on the side of my bed. And we argued some.  I told him about my shock and my anger.  I asked why I was not allowed to be more prepared.

But when morning came,  I knew that God had been with me all night.  He had tolerated my anger.  He had carried me through the scenario many times.  He allowed me to question and he had provided me with the strength to get through the night.  But most of all, God provided me with his peace.  He let me know that He was with me and life was going to be OK.  My husband was fine and I would be also.  What a great God I have that would allow me this night of processing and would take me into His heart and grant me grace and peace to live through death and life.