This post reflects the beginning of a new chapter in my life. One of the primary side effects of grief has a somatic nature and can be experienced as weight gain or loss. In my case, I gained a significant amount of weight as a result of the medications I took for severe depression, anxiety, deep emotional churning and distress. I used eating as a way of coping with the abject sadness that weighed on me.
On January 1 of this year I commenced Project 7-11-14 which was focused on weight loss and health, and a commitment to my professional development and goals. I also put my toe into the dating pool. So on July 11, I was in San Francisco with a good woman friend and officially toasted the successful completion of this project. I have released 12 pounds, all my health tests came back superb, my website and blog were launched, and I taught a course at a local university. Moreover, I have had approximately 2 dozen dates. I have been on fire!
So now I am beginning a new phase which I have entitled Project 1-15-15. This project continues my weight loss efforts, as well as my ongoing inner work. I am connecting with new parts of myself – physically, emotionally, and spiritually. When I became a widow, I was no longer a wife. I find myself re-imagining who I am now that my primary identity as Roy’s wife is gone. The late feminist psychoanalyst Karen Horney describes the importance of unlocking a woman’s inner life – one that is not defined by what the external patriarchal world provides her. Horney encouraged women to work from the inside out, not from the outside in. What I know about my inner world is that it has been shaped by the demands of patriarchal standards – questioning whether I am thin enough, pretty enough, and smart enough to live successfully in a man’s world. What I am driven to design for myself at this stage of my life is an inner framework that challenges the patriarchal domination of my psyche. I am moving towards becoming a woman with a life of her own and with questions of her own.
Today is the third anniversary of your death. In some ways it feels like the other day that you left me so suddenly, and yet it feels like eons ago that were together. I love you, and will always love you. I will forever treasure your memory and respect who you are in my life. I have worked so hard to be where I am today and I am proud of who I am. I am standing tall in my shoes and looking out at the world with anticipation. I have learned that real grief, as spiritual writer Henri Nouwen says, is not healed by time. Instead real grief is deepened by time. We become aware with the passing of time the importance of our lost loved one in our life and what their love meant to us. In memory we fully recognize the power and depth of love. I know now that I can build a new life and carry you with me as I venture forward. Our love continues and for that I am grateful.
The greatest joy in my life is when I am sitting at my small, round, wood-top table looking out at the ocean – my feet propped up on the chair and my body calm. These moments, minutes and oftentimes hours of being right here is a slice of heaven on earth. Often my cats join me for the quiet solitude that is brought to us through the sounds of the crushing waves, the passing by of a school of dolphins, and the swarms of pelicans that swoop by the plate glass window.
I see bright colors of red, purple and pink bougainvillea falling from the trellises, sharp pointed green cacti, and the deep blue ocean framed by the largess of a unending sky.
I begin each day in this way, make my coffee, sprinkle cat treats on the floor for my three feline friends, and open the small kitchen windows, from which I also sneak a view of the ocean.
When I sit in my chair with my freshly brewed coffee, prop my feet up and gaze at the magnificent Pacific Ocean, I am in the presence of the Divine. Since Roy’s death, I have come to depend on this ritual of welcoming the vast ocean into my day. Thank you, Gaia, for being here to support me and to remind me that Roy’s spirit is right here with me.
In these moments I am united with Roy. His spirit is now part of the Big Spirit, the Spirit that fills the ocean, embodies my feline companions, and encourages me to keep living in the physical realm. I am grateful to have this special bird’s-eye view of Mother Earth from my little corner of the world. The breeze floats in with the fresh ocean air. I smell life and I am alive.
In a week, the third anniversary of Roy’s death arrives. I am grateful for the small daily blessings that inspire me to live my life fully – honoring Roy’s memory and embracing my life. Those of us who grieve recognize these markers on our journeys knowing that life continues to unfold in wondrous ways.
After my father’s death when I was 4 years old, the home my family and I lived in was filled with emptiness, sadness and silence. I was attached to a 48 year old mother who was inconsolable. My three older siblings and I were often adrift on an unknown sea of tears. One Saturday evening in the middle of a cold Chicago winter, my mother, siblings and I were walking home from a church function. I remember it was cold, dark, and the sidewalk was icy. My siblings walked together behind me and I was walking alone behind my mother. I was 8 years old. My mother slipped on the ice in front of our home and fell hard on her knees. I ran to her. My siblings were busy laughing about something and did not notice. I was overwhelmed with despair and not sure what to do. My mother crawled into the back seat of our white 1960 Falcon which was parked in our driveway. She laid on her stomach in the back seat and her booted feet dangled out the open car door. I crawled on top of her and sobbed with her – crying over and over Mommy, mommy everything is okay.
I was terrified by her sadness and unable to express my own. We needed our father to hold her, pick her up and whisper softly “it’s okay Jeannie, I am here.” What made me cry was seeing my mother’s distraught-ness and no one was there for her except me. And no one was there for me either.
She was alone in her widow’s sorrow for many years following our Father’s sudden death. I was similarly alone, struggled in school, And wondered when someone would be there for me.
When I lost Roy so suddenly I was flooded with the same sense of loss that I experienced as a child. Unlike my mother, I created a community of guardian angels who helped me carry the pain as I resolved the deep sense of sorrow. They are the ones who comforted me.
When one loses someone, we need to reach out and ask for help. I am where I am today because of friends and others who supported me in the early months. Now it is I who support others.
Today is Roy’s 73rd birthday – Happy Birthday Roy Jack Mankovitz – you are missed and loved today.
I went to the cemetery this morning and brought flowers – I sat for awhile and spoke with Roy – telling him about the vicarious nature of life – how my moods and relationship to his death change from one day to the next. Last week when I was driving to Los Angeles and listening to an Al Jarreau CD, I felt an aliveness that I have felt on several occasions during the past 6 months. I realized for the hundredth time, that I was feeling happy and missing Roy at the same time. As I sat with friends in LA, I was cognizant of being alert and present – excited to be with friends, eating great food, and drinking delicious wine. I have done the heavy lifting of grief, but nonetheless I continue to struggle as I re-engage with life.
Each day since Roy’s death, I have read a meditation from Martha Whitmore Hickman’s book Daily Meditations for Working Through Grief. Her book has provided considerable solace as I move through the various cycles of grief and loss. Today’s reading hit home once again:
The reading begins with this Walt Whitman quote: “How soon unaccountable I became tired and sick, till rising and gliding out I wander’d off by myself, in the mystical moist night air, and from time to time, look’d up in perfect silence at the stars.”
She then goes on to discuss:
How readily we can identify with Whitman’s restlessness. Sometimes it seems as though nothing can hold our attention, nothing is worth doing for long. Life seems flat, without sparkle, almost without meaning.
Then how reassuring it can be to go out in the quiet night and look up at the stars. Surely in a world of such vast beauty and order, such unfathomable reaches of time and space, there must be meanings beyond our understanding.
There is a sense of intimacy to the night, too. That nearest star, bright in the heavens, is it a sign?
The mystery remains. But somehow we are comforted.
What I have gotten from today’s reading is my gratitude for reconnecting with a sense of wonder about life in its earthly dimension and the possibility of the eternal. Somewhere out there Roy is watching over each of us.
Rabbi Harold Kushner wrote in his best selling book When Bad Things Happen to Good People that bad things happen to good and bad people alike – and good things often happen to bad people. I knew before Roy died that life was not fair, but my personal relationship to this statement took on a whole different meaning in the wake of his death. I have learned from Roy’s sudden death and disappearance from my life that death frequently arrives with little time to prepare. I know at a very deep level that it is better to be as complete as possible with the people in my life because I don’t know when I will die or for that matter when they will die. My relationship to my personal death is very different now. I am not so afraid anymore – I lived through the dark journey to the underworld and came back up to the world of the living with a refreshed and renewed sense of what it means to be alive. To be alive means that I am breathing, feeling, thinking, loving, caring, hating, disliking, enjoying, feeling bored, and delighting in the ever present curiosity of what’s next in my life. I don’t spend near as much time feeling frightened of the uncertainty that is coupled with my unfolding future – I merely remember the load of bricks that was thrown on my shoulders in July 2011. As best as I can, I shake off the current shards of fear that attempt to prick me at any given time of the day. Yes I live with anxiety every day. I fear getting close to another man because I think of what it would be like if he were to die suddenly like Roy or like my father who died when I was four years old. I woke up the day after my father’s death to the reality that I would never see him again. That was a lot for a little four year old to take on – to live with the reality that “Daddy is never coming home again”. The trauma of my father’s death has accompanied me throughout my life – and was reactivated with Roy’s death. How could I lose the two most important men in my life to sudden death? Well, life is not fair. Bad things happen to good people. Roy was a fantastic man – he took care of himself, ate healthfully, took supplements, knew more than most medical professionals about how the body works. And boom – sudden cardiac arrest. Gone. Forever. He was a good person and he was taken out of the game before he was ready. Meanwhile bad people continue to take up space, create havoc, and give little back to our society. Go figure.
I believe that it is imperative that the reality of death needs to sit on our left shoulder 24-7 like a squawking black raven. This raven serves as an unrelenting reminder that we need to seize the moments of our lives with gusto and perseverance. If someone you love died recently or years ago and you have not adequately grieved the loss, the pain of the death will rob you of life, joy, and hope for the future. You must do the foot work of grief. It is painful, hard, and lonely … and people have been doing it since the beginning of time. Irish poet John O’Donohue states in his poem For Grief that when you lose someone you love, your life becomes strange. Yes indeed it does. However, at the end of the crippling journey of grief there is a moment when you realize you have finished the hardest part of the journey back to life. You notice that spring is back, that the air smells delicious, and that people are commenting that they notice a sparkle in your eye again. It is a heavy price to pay for recognizing that life is incredible. But this recognition is awaiting each of us when grief has been completed. I encourage you to grab it when it arrives and don’t let go. You deserve to feel that incredible sense of being alive … again.
One changes a great deal throughout the journey of grief. I can no longer call Roy when I have a few extra minutes. I cannot call him from the office and tell him I am on my way home and that he can put on the ribs for dinner. This reality was instantaneous and took many months to adjust to – to really integrate into my daily awareness that he was not here … anywhere …. nowhere for me to call and to hear his voice. Now I talk to him soul to soul and I know he hears me.
I have learned to trust my insights and knowings about the world and my life inside the bigger world. I call upon me to figure out what needs to be done. I still feel sad when I recognize the aloneness that accompanies me on this journey. However, I am released from the dark veil of grief that shrouded me for so very long. I am fully present to more moments of welcoming the bright times of belonging to the world of possibility. At this stage of my new life I can “multi-task” – I can miss Roy, feel happy, passionate and joyful and live life fully all at the same time. I am thriving in my life – not merely surviving.
Julian of Norwich states: It was not said that you will not be troubled, you will not be be belabored, you will not be disquieted. More so: you will not be overcome.
I was troubled, felt belabored, and experienced deep disquiet for many months. And I was not overcome by Roy’s death. I chose life. For this transformation I am grateful.
Since Roy’s death almost 3 years ago, I have cultivated an inner strength through writing, dialoguing, meditating and re-discovering what I love to do. My marriage to Roy was the source of my strength. Now I stand on the shoulders of our marriage and draw from the insights and breakthroughs that I am discovering as I move on with my life as a single woman. I derive enormous strength from the words of the Middle Ages mystic Julian of Norwich “All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well”. I hope all is well with you!
I recently returned from a five day trip to Tucson where I attended my niece’s wedding. My family and I had a good time – we laughed, danced, ate, drank, and caught up with one another’s lives. I travel with more confidence now. This trip was easier than others because I was with my family most of the time i.e., there was familiarity and structure to my days. Nor did I stay at a hotel.
Traveling alone is hard for me. I can’t say I enjoy doing it, I just know that I can. It is critical for my sanity and unfolding life to know I can do anything and everything on my own – that way I am not trapped or limited. I also know who to call when I don’t know how to do something. I don’t know if I will ever savor the experience of planning a trip alone, but I am grateful that my world has expanded to its current dimensions that includes traveling.
I miss Roy when I am at airports … I watch other couples and am pulled back into 23 years of memories. I remember our extensive travels: memories of holding hands when each flight took off and landed, sipping champagne, and watching each others’ carry on bags when a bathroom break was required. I miss planning trips with Roy, traveling together, and feeling his warm body next to mine in unfamiliar hotel beds. I just miss him. Period. However, now I get the aisle seat on flights … One tiny pleasure that I can admit to on my blog.
The journey to today has required the simultaneous embracing of fear and being committed to healing from this tragedy. I am still catching up emotionally with the new landscape of my life … I cognitively and realistically understand all that has transpired, but feel my emotional intelligence is continuing to unfold. I still wonder what would Roy do in particular situations. I suspect I will always wonder because I have internalized him into my inner world … I argue and agree with my inner Roy on a regular basis. I love having him there … Wherever “there” is .. My mind, my psyche, my soul? This is part of the grieving process – to detach from our loved one’s physical presence while internalizing them into our inner world. It took me a long time to do this. I feel that I have successfully made the separation and yet feel joined with Roy in a new and different way. And as I said I miss him everyday. This is the complexity of death and loss – we who are still here need to choose life in order to heal which entails saying goodbye to what we knew. It is hard yet doable.
My late husband Roy died suddenly and unexpectedly on July 10, 2011. I will soon be arriving at the three year anniversary of his death. The journey of grief from that fateful day to today was filled with terrible emotional pain, severe depression, unending despair, and unbearable mourning. I would say that this first phase of my journey of grief lasted a full 12 months. I had a housemate for most of the first year as living alone was too overwhelming for me. She was a god-send in so many ways.
The second phase of the journey began one year after Roy died when I sold our home and moved into a new place not too far from where we lived in the foothills. I chose a smaller place on the ocean knowing I was creating a healing sanctuary for myself. The second year was hard in a different way. I was living in a familiar yet unfamiliar place. I was in a new home that I found and bought without Roy. I was living alone for the first time in 25 years. I felt like a fish out of water for most of the first year of living in my ocean side sanctuary. I scheduled my first trip 16 months after Roy’s death to participate in a 5 day workshop. It was being held in a place we had not visited together – Santa Fe. After this workshop, I became aware of subtle signs of hope, a gentle process of renewal, and a slow rebirth process unfolding. I soon was traveling to Arizona, around California, and onto Europe and Mexico.
As I approach the three year anniversary, I am fully creating a new life as a single woman. I have started dating and am enjoying it – there are some wonderful men out there. The woman I am today is not the same woman who left her home on an early Sunday morning in July to drive from Santa Barbara to San Diego for an overnight meeting. I lost two people that day – my wonderful husband and friend, Roy, as well as the “me” who I knew at that time – a happily married woman in a successful 23 year marriage. She was married to her best friend and soul mate.
My last view of Roy was of him sitting at his desk, facing his computer, posting on his Facebook page, and wearing his tan and cream colored robe. At about 8:10 am that morning I told him that I was ready to leave for my overnight trip to San Diego. I entered his office, approached him from behind his chair, hugged him, and kissed his head. As I hugged him, I told him that I loved him and that I would call him when I arrived in San Diego. He responded that he loved me too and murmured “talk to you later, drive safely”. As I proceeded down the hallway towards the garage where my car was loaded with new CDs, water, and my luggage, I felt something in my gut telling me to yell back one last time “I love you dear, have a good day, drive safely wherever you go”. He yelled back “love ya dear”. Those were the last words he told me.
Arriving in San Diego roughly 3 ½ hours later, I called him from a Subway where my friend who I picked up on the way and I had stopped to get a bite to eat before our meeting. I was surprised that he did not answer either our home line or his cell phone. I tried him multiple times through out the afternoon while I was at my meeting. I wondered if f he had gone to a movie, had been called to a family emergency, or was napping. By 6:15 pm I knew something was terribly wrong. I told my friends I was very concerned and that I would call the security guards at the gated community we lived in. I headed towards my car and sat in the driver’s seat. My friend came with me and sat in the passenger seat and my car was surrounded by many friends as I awaited the news. The guards went to our home but there was no response. They called me with that info and I told them where the house key was hidden and gave them permission to enter our home. As I waited in my car for another call back from the guards, I was reviewing the past couple days in my head – Roy had not felt well, complained of nausea and fatigue. He told me he was feeling better the morning I was going to San Diego. I reflected that I would not have gone had I thought there was something wrong. Wouldn’t I have known if something was wrong? Why did I go? My cell phone rang and I was told that 911 was called and that I would hear back once the paramedics arrived. By this time I knew I would need to return home rather than spend the night as previously planned.
I remember being surrounded by women friends. I received the next call from my favorite guard Bill who told me the paramedics needed to talk to me. My stomach was in knots … I asked the paramedic “is my husband ok”. His sentence began “I am so sorry Mrs. Mankovitz” … I began to scream “No, no, not Roy”. I was crying and screaming barely able to hear what I was being told. I was being told that Roy was dead on the floor of our bathroom. From visible signs it was a sudden heart attack and it been awhile since he died. The paramedic told me he would call the coroner’s office and that I would hear from them when they arrived at our home.
One does not forget the moment they learn that someone they treasure and love is dead. Frozen in time and space the eyes begin to retreat within … the scope of the physical world pulls in on itself and the future does not exist except in painful stabs of memory … he is not here, what will I do? In those initial moments of hearing the words that Roy was dead, my friends were asking what is wrong, what is going on, and I responded in agony that “Roy is dead”, “Roy is dead”. I am taken from the driver’s seat and placed in the passenger seat – my friend takes the wheel and we head back from where we began 12 hours earlier. During the drive, I begin the unbearable task of calling my stepchildren, sister-in-law, my family and our friends as my car weaves its way along the San Diego freeway. I reflect that the last time I was in the passenger seat of my car was 5 days earlier when Roy drove us to a 4th of July party.
Looking back from today’s vantage point, I see that the road to now has been the hardest journey of my life. In this blog series on grief, I will share what I have learned along the road. I will unpack how I have come to know that there is “Life after death … after the death of someone we love”.